Analysis – Biden’s Debt Relief Plan Will Let Black Farmers Who Avoid Race Frustrated

Leah Douglas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some black farmers say they are disappointed with a new U.S. agricultural debt relief program to save thousands of farmers from foreclosure.

The program, included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed into law by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, provided aid based on race but ended in a series of lawsuits after white farmers sued to stop payments previously. following its debt relief program.

A new program that qualifies farmers for bailouts based on economic instability rather than race ends that litigation and frees up resources to allow the USDA to seize farmers, including those of color. Allows to help avoid

But it also specifically addresses systemic racism and provides targeted debt relief to fix past institutional discrimination that has resulted in billions of dollars worth of lost land. This curtails the Biden administration’s promise to heal strained relations with farmers of color.

Proponents of race-based programs hoped the legal battle would continue, but believed that economics-based programs had failed to address the specific wounds of racism.

“It doesn’t even come close to the racial equality model that this administration and the USDA have been talking about since the beginning of their tenure,” said Dãnia Davy, director of land tenure and advocacy for the Southern Cooperative Union Advocating for Black Farmers. I’m here. .

The law allocates $3.1 billion to the USDA for loan adjustments or payments to farmers holding loans from the agency’s Farm Services Agency (FSA), the agency’s lender of last resort, and discriminates against the agency’s lending practices. We are allocating $2.2 billion to experienced farmers.

‘What is it’

Farmers of color are the most likely to benefit from the IRA program as they make up nearly a third of those who are delinquent on FSA loans, according to government sources obtained by Reuters through the Freedom of Information Act. According to a review of agency data.

As of May 31, more than 11,100 farmers were 90 days or more behind in payments to the FSA, according to data.

Farmers of color are overvalued in that group. While accounting for about 16% of USDA loans distributed in 2020, 2021 and 2022, according to data, more than 31% of his delinquents are racial minorities or multiethnic.

Overdue borrowers may eventually be at risk of foreclosure. The USDA is currently enforcing a moratorium on foreclosures related to the coronavirus emergency declaration, which will expire in October unless extended.

Given policies, legislation and the economic climate, several groups representing farmers of color, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s farmers, told Reuters that an IRA program would be possible, even if it didn’t specifically target race. He said it was the best possible result.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s something. It’s a start,” said Toni Stanger McLaughlin, CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an email to Reuters that the program would give the USDA “an important new tool to help destitute farmers continue farming and bring justice to those who have been discriminated against.” .

Several policy makers told Reuters the IRA program would achieve racial justice goals by keeping farmers on their land.

Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, said in an email to Reuters:

Booker, along with Georgia Democratic Senator Rafael Warnock, appealed to include a debt relief program in the IRA.

Termination of litigation

The government has defended previous debt relief programs passed in the American Relief Plans Act (ARPA) against several lawsuits, including a class action lawsuit from white Texas farmers alleging discrimination.

Legal experts say the government is likely to lose the case, and if it appeals, it could move the case to the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, giving other so-called races such as affirmative action. It states that it can threaten conscious programs.

The IRA will repeal the section of ARPA that provides for racially targeted debt relief programs, and the Justice Department will likely dismiss the lawsuit, three sources familiar with the lawsuit said.

“It is unimaginable [the IRA] We’re not killing these cases,” said Jessica Culpepper, an attorney at Public Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm involved in the lawsuits.

The Justice Department and the USDA declined to comment on plans for the lawsuit.

Some black farmers who have worked for months to defend the ARPA program still hope to win the long odds and see ending the legal battle as a failure.

John Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association who is a party to the lawsuit in Texas, said in a statement, “We are very disappointed in this legislative action.

“We are ready to fight all the way to the Supreme Court for debt relief for black, Native American, and other farmers of color.”

(Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Deepa Babington)

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