Historic Debt Relief Program for Farmers of Color Hits Setback After White Farmers File Discrimination Lawsuits

Alfred Matiyabo pulls weeds and replants habanero plants on his plot on the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Matiyabo’s business, Africando Foods, grows crops, such as amaranth, sweet potato leaves, that he markets to African grocery stores. He also grows peppers to make hot sauce. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette via AP)

Congress is on the verge of rolling back a significant debt relief program intended to provide aid to farmers of color after the Democratic-led effort hit a roadblock last year following legal challenges brought by white farmers claiming discrimination. 

Democrats are planning to repeal the program in a sprawling economic package the party could pass as early as this week. But there are new plans to put more than $5 billion toward helping farmers whose operations are deemed at “at financial risk,” as well as those who have faced discrimination.

Specifically, the bill outlines $3.1 billion to help “distressed borrowers of direct or guaranteed loans administered by the Farm Service Agency,” and $2.2 billion for a program to provide assistance for farmers that experienced discrimination in Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm lending programs prior to January 2021.

Agri-Pulse was first to report the plan, which was tucked away in Democrats’ 700-plus-page Inflation Reduction Act, a mammoth tax, climate and health care plan the Senate passed over the weekend.

The plan comes more than a year after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus relief package that President Biden signed into law in March 2021, which included $4 billion in aid for underserved farmers.

The measure was met with instant praise from advocates last year and seen, in part, as a step by Congress to acknowledge a long history of discrimination that Black farmers and farmers of color have experienced in the nation, particularly by the government.

“USDA is recommitting itself to gaining the trust and confidence of America’s farmers and ranchers using a new set of tools provided in the American Rescue Plan to increase opportunity, advance equity and address systemic discrimination in USDA programs,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the time.

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SOURCE: The Hill, Aris Folley