Black Farmers

As USDA’s Promised Debt Relief is Stalled Indefinitely, Confusion and Anxiety are Setting In

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Publisher’s Note:  In 2021, this website made a deliberate attempt to get closer the Black Farmer movement and educate our staff and the people who visit this website on the plight of the Black farmers.  Personally speaking, this has been an emotional roller coaster.  I’ve felt sad, disgusted, angry, perplexed, baffled and hurt.  Are any of those words and feelings positive?  The answer is NO!  I can only imagine how Black farmers and their families and supporters feel.  If you are new to this issue, or thought that the USDA had already “done the right thing,” scroll down and watch the video below.  “I’m Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice,” is a documentary that chronicles the injustices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also known as ‘the last plantation,’ and the lived experiences of Black farmers who chose to fight against discrimination.

As the Publisher of this website, we are committed to sharing as much information as we can in the pursuit of justice for Black farmers.  We have a section on the site dedicated to the sharing information on the plight of the Black Farmers and we sponsor the website JusticeForBlackFarmers.com.

Gary A. Johnson, Founder & Publisher (Black Men In America.com)

The Situation:  The debt relief program that was in the American Rescue Plan Act last year is on hold.  Some farmers say that USDA Secretary Vilsack deliberately took too long to implement the program, allowing opposition groups to organize and file lawsuits. This appears to be another example of the ways in which USDA continues to fail Black farmers.

Publisher’s Note:  This article was written by April Simpson and originally published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C.

April Simpson reports on rural issues at Stateline. Before joining Pew, April was associate editor of Current, where she covered public broadcasting and nonprofit media. April was a Fulbright fellow in Botswana and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation. She has written for the Seattle Times and the Boston Globe, among other publications. April is a graduate of Smith College and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

After amassing more than $100,000 in debt over more than two decades of farming, a Georgia-based farmer named Denver got welcome news last year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers like him would be eligible for a new debt relief program. USDA would pay off certain loans and give him a little extra for tax liabilities. 

Denver did not receive a payment. But almost a year later, he received another letter: A notice that USDA intends to take legal action to collect the money he owes the agency. Denver asked the Center for Public Integrity not to use his last name out of fear of retaliation. 

“We know that institutional discrimination is systemic within USDA,” said Tracy Lloyd McCurty, executive director of the Black Belt Justice Center. “So then the question is, how many other Black farmers around the country are experiencing this and they just don’t know who to reach out to about it?” 

How Denver and other farmers like him got here is a confusing mix of bureaucracy, policy choices and litigation. Farmers and advocates fear massive land loss and foreclosures if this legal muddle doesn’t get straightened out. Data the Center for Public Integrity received through a Freedom of Information Act request also suggests that the USDA violated its own promise to suspend debt collections during the pandemic. 

But we’ll start from the beginning.

In January 2021, USDA promised it would suspend debt collections, foreclosures and other adverse actions on borrowers with direct farm loans, made between the Farm Service Agency and the borrower, given the economic hardship posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That decision was followed up by the American Rescue Plan Act. The new law included a $4 billion program to cancel certain farm loan debts farmers of color owe the Farm Service Agency, a USDA sub-agency that provides loans to agricultural producers. The law energized Black and other farmers of color who have long faced discrimination by the department, which has approved access to credit at lower rates and provided inequitable program payments than white farmers received.

Eligible farmers such as Denver received notices from USDA that spelled out exactly how much it would pay to wipe out their debts, including 20% to cover tax liabilities.

As USDA prepared to implement the new law last year, eligible farmers were told they wouldn’t be punished for failing to make payments. So Denver stopped.

But legal challenges from white farmers claiming reverse discrimination were filed in several states. Eventually a federal judge stopped USDA from implementing the program and allowed a class action lawsuit to proceed.

“That’s one of the most heartbreaking situations that I’ve observed in my 30-plus years as a lawyer working with farmers,” said Susan Schneider, director of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. “The USDA’s enjoined. They can’t really do anything.”

 

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