USDA announces plan for Black farmer payments, Vilsack to Georgia Saturday |

USDA announces plan for Black farmer payments, Vilsack to Georgia Saturday

The Agriculture Department today announced its plan to make debt relief available to Black farmers, a day before Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to Georgia to join Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., for a roundtable with Black farmers at Fort Valley State University.

The Saturday event will take place at 9:30 a.m. and is open to reporters. A spokesman said Vilsack will travel to other states to discuss the aid plan in the coming weeks.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that Warnock is under pressure to deliver the debt relief that Black farmers have been promised.

Meanwhile, conservative groups have filed lawsuits alleging that aid for minority farmers is unconstitutional.

Bank groups have said that the Agriculture Department should pay banks more when USDA pays off guaranteed loans because the early terminations are cutting into their incomes.

But USDA has said that the American Rescue Plan provision creating the debt relief program did not give the department power to take that action, and Vilsack has said he is proceeding with the debt relief program as planned.

USDA said in a news release that the official notice of funding availability announcing loan payments for eligible borrowers with qualifying direct farm loans under the American Rescue Plan Act will be published in the Federal Register early next week, and USDA expects payments to begin in early June and continue on a rolling basis.

A subsequent notice addressing guaranteed loan balances and direct loans that no longer have collateral and have been previously referred to the Treasury Department for debt collection for offset, will be published within 120 days.

“The American Rescue Plan has made it possible for USDA to deliver historic debt relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers beginning in June,” Vilsack said in the news release.

“USDA is recommitting itself to gaining the trust and confidence of America’s farmers and ranchers using a new set of tools provided in the American Rescue Plan to increase opportunity, advance equity and address systemic discrimination in USDA programs.”

USDA explained, “Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides funding and authorization for USDA FSA [Farm Service Agency] to pay up to 120% of direct and guaranteed loan outstanding balances as of January 1, 2021, for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as defined in Section 2501(a) of the Food, Agriculture Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 2279(a)).

“Section 2501(a) defines a socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher as a farmer or rancher who is a member of a socially disadvantaged group, which is further defined as a group whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities. Qualifying loans as part of today’s announcement are certain direct loans under the Farm Loan Programs and Farm Storage Facility Loan Program.

“For much of the history of the USDA, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have faced discrimination — sometimes overt and sometimes through deeply embedded rules and policies — that have prevented them from achieving as much as their counterparts who do not face these documented acts of discrimination.

“Over the past 30 years, several major civil rights lawsuits have compensated farmers for specific acts of discrimination — including Pigford I and Pigford II, Keepseagle, and the Garcia cases. However, those settlements and other related actions did not address the systemic and cumulative impacts of discrimination over a number of decades that the American Rescue Plan now begins to address.

“Sections 1005 and 1006 of ARPA provide USDA with new tools to address longstanding inequities for socially disadvantaged borrowers. Section 1006 of ARPA provides additional funding to begin long-term racial equity work within USDA, including to address heirs property claims and to stand up an Equity Commission to identify barriers to access USDA programming.”

–The Hagstrom Report

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