Inflation Reduction Act to Rewrite Embattled Black Farmer Relief Program

WASHINGTON — A $4 billion program to help black and other “disadvantaged” farmers that was not launched last year amid legal opposition will provide relief funds to farmers who face discrimination replaced by plans.

The change, which was incorporated into the Climate and Tax Act, known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, has sparked backlash from farmers for whom the original debt relief program, part of the $1.9 trillion U.S. bailout plan for 2021, was intended. I am inviting you. help. The new program is the latest twist in an 18-month span that highlights the challenges facing the Biden administration’s attempt to put racial equality at the center of its economic agenda.

Black farmers have been in limbo for months, not knowing whether the promised debt relief will be granted. invested in Some received foreclosure notices from the USDA this year as the program declined.

The bill, which passed the Senate this week and is expected to pass the House on Friday, will create two new funds to help farmers. One, $2.2 billion, will provide financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who face discrimination before 2021. The other provides $3.1 billion to make payments for the agricultural sector to make loans or change loans to farmers facing financial difficulties.

This funding replaces a $4 billion program designed to help approximately 15,000 farmers who have federal loans or bank loans guaranteed by the Department of Agriculture. They included farmers and ranchers who were subject to racial or ethnic prejudice, including those of Black, Native American/Alaska Native, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic origin. I did.

Last year’s pandemic relief package included an additional $1 billion to help farmers and ranchers of color and improve their access to land.

White farmers and the groups that represent them questioned whether the government could grant debt forgiveness based on race, saying the law discriminated against them. , the program was frozen.

The program also faced resistance from banks, who argued that if loans to farmers were suddenly repaid, it would hurt their profits.

Fearing the program would be blocked entirely, Democrats rewrote the law to remove race from the eligibility requirements. It is not clear how discrimination is defined, and the law appears to give the Department of Agriculture broad discretion to distribute money as it sees fit.

A group representing black farmers, who have faced decades of discrimination from banks and the federal government, are disappointed that money is no longer set aside specifically for them.

The President of the National Association of Black Farmers, John Boyd, said that President Biden “has withdrawn his promise to support black farmers.”

Boyd compared the situation to broken 19th-century promises that former slaves would receive 40 acres of land and mules, adding: Black is always last. “

A class action lawsuit filed against the Department of Agriculture by a group of white farmers is ongoing in Texas this year, and an organization representing black farmers said a new bill was set up for the Democrats to pass everything. Governments can address America’s legacy of racism through legislation.

“It’s disappointing that the administration focused so much on racial equity that at the first sign of litigation, they turned away from how hard it would be to actually get the racial equity job done. said Dãnia Davy, Director of Land Retention and Advocacy for the Southern Cooperative Federation/Land Assistance Fund.

Davey said her organization was caught off-guard by the new law after months of debates with lawmakers and the Biden administration about how to help black farmers.

Democrats and the Biden administration hailed the bill as progress.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said on Twitter this week:“I am proud that more than $5 billion is included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which will help thousands of struggling smallholder farmers stay on their land and free black farmers and USDA farmers. It will enable us to provide financial support to others who are suffering from discrimination.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that the new law would give his agency the tools to help needy farmers and bring justice to those who face discrimination.

“The Biden-Harris administration is deeply committed to defending civil rights and promoting equity,” Vilsack said. Served perfectly.

The Ministry of Agriculture will work with non-governmental agencies to develop the design and processes for some of the programs. One of the most difficult tasks is determining how to define “discrimination” and thus eligibility.

Jean Sperling, who oversees the Biden administration’s pandemic relief program, said the good news is that money will soon be pouring in to farmers in need.

Sperling said in a statement, “Anyone who has a sober and realistic view of the state of things is unaware of the fact that they have zero funds because they are farmers in need or victims of discrimination. We must recognize that the Senate has taken a desperate situation,” he said. Now he has $5 billion and can start going to tens of thousands of farmers. “

It’s not clear how quickly the funds will be disbursed, or if groups of white farmers who challenged the original law will oppose the new program.

Rick M. Esenberg, president and general counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Freedom, which represented white farmers in one of the first lawsuits, said the new law was being considered.

“Generally speaking, our view is that you cannot condition government interests on the basis of race,” Esenberg said.

America First Legal, a group led by Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to the Trump administration, who has represented groups of white farmers, said the change to the law acknowledged that the original program was illegal. said.

“Clearly, President Biden and his supporters in Congress believe that their illegal, unconstitutional and racist programs are being used by America First Legal on behalf of their clients,” said Jean Hamilton, an attorney in the Trump administration. I was aware that I was effectively shattered in court by America First Legal.

“The final passage of the bill in the House this week will be a public acknowledgment of their defeat,” Hamilton added.

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