In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Warnock is trying to find a way to protect Black farmers and all economically distressed farmers from losing their farms by ensuring debt relief. Black farmers are suffering because of systemic discrimination by the USDA.
Zoe Willingham is co-author of a 2019 report on Black farmers for the Center for American Progress. The government’s documented history of denying federal loans to Black farmers led to the loss of about 90 percent of their land between 1910 and 1997, while white farmers lost only about 2 percent. “The first meaningful action for Black farmers is in the federal financial loan forgiveness in the American Rescue Plan,” says Willingham, who credits grassroots farmer groups and strong progressive leaders like Warnock for generating the support in Congress. “It’s been thrilling to see the leadership he’s taken on.”
Almost immediately upon arriving in the Senate, Warnock proposed a stand-alone bill, Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act. Its central component is loan forgiveness, and working with his Democratic colleagues Cory Booker and Ben Ray Lujan, he got the first meaningful action on this long and deep-seated problem of financial relief for Black farmers. “I do hope this is lifted up by Biden as a huge victory,” Willingham told The Daily Beast. “He has highlighted a forgotten segment of rural America, and that is rural communities of color.”
1983, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights described in detail the discrimination against Black farmers, the USDA (Department of Agriculture) settled a lawsuit with Black farmers to pay damages.