Opening Statement: Republican Leader Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson to Full Ag Committee Hearing to Review the State of Black Farmers in the U.S.
Remarks by Glenn ’GT’ Thompson (Penn.) as prepared for delivery:
Good morning, and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing on such an important issue—an issue that I know is not only near and dear to your heart, but an issue of importance that each and every one of us participating today, including those tuning in to our live stream, can learn something from.
Today’s hearing to review the state of Black farmers in the United States is an opportunity to address some questions that have gone unanswered for far too long.
Everyone participating today is familiar with the 1999 class action suit, Pigford v. Glickman, a case that alleged decades of discrimination by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) against Black farmers applying for farm loans and other government assistance. Since the original Pigford settlement, more than $2 billion has been allocated as compensation for Black farmers.
Without a doubt, there has been discrimination at USDA in the past against Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged groups. Sadly, I’m sure instances of discrimination remain today.
The American Rescue Plan was signed into law on two weeks ago today. Among the nearly $2 trillion in spending was $5 billion allocated for Black farmers, $4 billion of which was designated for loan forgiveness.
Let me be clear. I did not vote for this bill for many obvious reasons—the fact that the bulk of the multi-trillion-dollar bill had virtually nothing to do with COVID was chief among them. It was also drafted behind closed doors with no input from the minority party. Moreover, the bill was drafted based on hypotheticals, misinformation, and incomplete data. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you force through partisan legislation through budget reconciliation.
Paying off the loans of socially disadvantaged farmers may help in the short term, but it does very little to address the root cause of the issue. It does nothing to attack discrimination head on, and it certainly doesn’t prevent racial exclusion for Black farmers or any other socially disadvantaged group in the future.
How did USDA leadership fail so spectacularly to allow for this ongoing discrimination for so many years? Why were the bad actors allowed to continue their comfortable government or appointed jobs when they so brazenly allowed discrimination to continue, even if not having directly engaged in the discrimination itself? Is simply forgiving debt the best way to address this problem and provide a forward-thinking and equitable outcome?
The American Rescue Plan gives USDA blanket authority to handle the funds provided through the legislation. Surely, leaving an unelected bureaucracy with a decades-long track record of racial discrimination to their own devices cannot be the best way to right wrongs.
We cannot forget the progress Congress has already made by authorizing programs and initiatives through previous Farm Bills to assist Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers. From credit to conservation, there have been a number of provisions that seek to address inequities.
For example, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) now targets direct loans and guarantees loans to eligible socially disadvantaged farmers to buy and operate family-sized farms and ranches. When it comes to conservation and forestry, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has made a concerted effort to provide resources for socially disadvantaged and historically underserved producers. Every year, NRCS targets five percent of its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for socially disadvantaged farmers. However, over the last decade, NRCS has exceeded expectations with 33 percent of EQIP funding going to historically underserved producers and beginning farmers.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the 2018 Farm Bill investments in historically Black 1890 land-grant universities, including $80 million in scholarships for HBCU students to pursue agricultural education.
While much work remains, we should look to this previous progress as a blueprint in continued discussions. We must work together as a farm team—farmers, ranchers, producers, legislators, stakeholders, and activists alike—to reduce barriers that are preventing Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers from participating fully in a robust farm economy. We must support a strong farm economy that lifts up all.
I would like to thank our Chairman once again, and I would especially like to thank our witnesses. Your testimony is critical in helping us better understand the discrimination Black farmers have faced, and it will play a crucial role to ensure our agriculture policy does not discriminate, rather it empowers farms of all races, sizes, and commodities. I am here to listen. We are all here to listen, and I look forward to participating in this long overdue conversation.
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In response to the severe drought conditions in the West and Great Plains, the Agriculture Department this week announced that plans to help cover the cost of transporting feed for livestock that rely on grazing.