RAFI-USA wholeheartedly endorses the Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act, re-introduced by Sen. Gillibrand, which provides debt relief for small-scale farmers with FSA loans. Along with the debt relief for farmers of color passed in the American Rescue Plan earlier this year, this legislation is an important step in a series of much needed financial assistance tools for farmers who have not been well-served by USDA programs, in order to quickly and effectively support our food system and those who put food on our tables every day.
We urge you to take action today and ask your legislators to cosponsor this critical bill and support its inclusion in any future legislative package.
As the United States enters a second year of grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, farmers and ranchers are continuing to endure major disruptions to their markets and farm operations. While all farmers are affected by COVID-19, small family farmers, already operating on thin margins, are most at risk of losing their farms, homes, and land from the financial free fall caused by this pandemic. This further harms the rural economies and the communities they call home. We have already seen too much economic suffering, and too many farms lost, emphasizing the urgent need for decisive action from Congress and targeted support by federal agencies.
“Years of policy pushing farmers to “get big or get out” have resulted in a decades-long trend of farm loss and farm consolidation. This legislation focuses on supporting those farms who have not been able to benefit from federal support the way larger farms have. It comes at a necessary time: between natural disasters, high input prices and now the impacts of the pandemic, small farmers need this debt relief now.” – Edna Rodriguez, Executive Director of RAFI-USA
Most farms rely on off-farm sources of income to support household finances and to secure benefits like healthcare coverage. This year, with federal direct payments to the agriculture sector expected to decrease, USDA is forecasting that net farm incomes too will fall by 8%. Thus while farm foreclosures have been stalled by USDA over the past year, the fundamental economic stress experienced by small farmers has not gone away, and the continued urgency of this moment cannot be stressed enough. Small family farmers are the backbone of our food system and rural economies, and they need our support in this moment of unprecedented hardship, especially while they galvanize to feed their communities. We cannot afford to lose a single additional farm.
The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act (S.2023, H.R. 3782) would provide direct debt relief for small farmers around the country by providing a one-time loan forgiveness of up to $250,000 across three types of USDA FSA loans: Direct Operating, Direct Farm Ownership, and Emergency Loans. Eligible farmers must have an average adjusted gross income (AGI) of $300,000 or less over the previous five years, regardless of what they grow.
“The debt relief in this act is going to small farmers who have been left out of the benefits of most other USDA programs – farmers who have had to struggle trying to survive, who couldn’t get commercial credit, and had no borrowing option but FSA.” – Benny Bunting, Lead Farmer Advocate at RAFI-USA
Debt relief is an important tool for directly assisting these farmers, most of whom have not benefited from prior farmer relief programs. While USDA has taken steps during the pandemic to set aside loan payments or suspend some adverse actions, these measures delay damage but cannot actually solve the multi-year crisis for most small farmers. Furthermore, forgiving these FSA loans allows farmers to redirect financial resources to other farm and household debts, such as private loans and credit cards.
Take action and ask your member of Congress to co-sponsor this legislation! And don’t forget to let them know if you’re a farmer.
The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act has been endorsed by over 100 leading farm and agriculture advocacy organizations.
This post was adapted from the organizational sign-on letter by National Family Farm Coalition, RAFI-USA, and Farm Aid.