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USDA Debt Relief for BIPOC Farmers Halted by Temporary Restraining Order: Our response.

For  Immediate Release: June 15, 2021
Contact: Beth Hauptle, 919.903.2525, [email protected]

Background

On May 21, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) published the first notice of funding availability (NOFA) announcing loan payments for socially disadvantaged farmers with qualifying direct and guaranteed farm loans as directed by Congress under the American Rescue Plan Act Section 1005. 

On Thursday, June 10, 2021 a federal judge in Wisconsin’s Eastern District handed down a temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of 12 plaintiffs — all white farmers or ranchers. The complaint alleges that the U.S. “retreated from the principle of equality under the law by enacting a race-based loan-forgiveness program in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).”

RAFI-USA Statement

Because of our direct work supporting farmers, we at RAFI-USA see the ways that farmers of color have been discriminated against including being prevented from accessing credit and other funding, subjected to predatory lending, or given bad service by agencies who are looking for a reason to deny their application rather than provide support. The Pigford and Keepseagle cases proved in the courts what farmers of color already knew: discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a long and very real history. The differential level of service and support provided to farmers of color can still be seen today, recently in the greater proportion of COVID-19 aid provided in 2020 to white farmers with Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American or Pacific Islander farmers receiving just 1% of the aid. The debt relief for producers of color in the American Rescue Plan is an important first step in addressing these disparities and must not be delayed. 

The individual farmers of color we work with were told they could count on this assistance. They are waiting every day to hear news about it. They are undeniably hurt by the restraining order; and for farmers in foreclosure, if an injunction to block payments is granted, they could lose their land — an asset which no retroactive payment can ever replace.

While USDA will never be able to restore the land and farms lost already lost to decades of discrimination, or the opportunities denied to farmers of color, the debt relief in the American Rescue Plan is an important beginning to repair some of the damage which has been done and to move in the direction of justice. We urge the Court to recognize that the American Rescue Plan debt relief does not create an injustice, but takes the first steps to correct one.

Individual Statements

“Farmers of color have faced discrimination for as long as we’ve been farming. If that weren’t the case, it would not have been necessary to offer debt payments or relief for ‘socially disadvantaged’ farmers in the American Rescue Plan. If you look at the numbers, farmers of color are nearly extinct. From the late 1800s until recently, Black families lost about 98% of their land. The root causes of most of this loss is due to discrimination in lending and servicing practices in the USDA. The only way to right these wrongs is to focus on the impacted population with mitigative programs, and the American Rescue Plan’s Debt Payments for socially disadvantaged farmers is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Phillip Farland is a retired North Carolina State Director of USDA Farm Service Agency and RAFI-USA Board Vice President

“We have heard so many stories over the years from farmers of color who have experienced discrimination. We work now with farmers eligible for the relief, who have experienced racial discrimination and are currently in bankruptcy or foreclosure. When the ARPA debt relief came out they got forbearance because of it — it was a lifeline for them. If this pause lasts a long time, what message is that sending about forbearance to bankruptcy and foreclosure courts? This restraining order harms those farmers and an injunction would put them even more at risk — it’s cutting that lifeline. Money will not replace that land. You can replace a combine or a tractor. You can’t replace land.”
Benny Bunting, RAFI-USA’s Lead Farmer Advocate, has spent decades helping hundreds of farmers navigate financial crisis.

“All farmers deserve fair treatment and a chance for success — but not all farmers have experienced the same generational discrimination or predatory lending practices. BIPOC and specifically Black farmers have gotten the short end of the stick for a while. If we want to see a vibrant, diverse group of farmers supported and have it reflect the rest of the country, we have to do our best to repair the discrimination and predatory practices. This is about making right and investing where we have historically underserved a demographic. It isn’t enough to repair the damage which has been done, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Tahz Walker is the Senior Program Manager of RAFI-USA’s Farmers of Color Network, which among other activities, provides small grants to farmers of color via its Infrastructure Fund. 

“USDA programs have for decades benefitted white farmers, pandemic relief included.  As a white farmer I don’t see how BIPOC debt repayment is going to hinder me at all.”
Craig Watts is a Farmer Advocate for RAFI-USA, and a former poultry contract grower who has been outspoken about the power giant meat companies wield over farmers. Craig was named Whistleblower Insider’s ‘2015 Whistleblower of the Year’.

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