U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) Area Director Nivory Gordon, Jr. with his father Nivory Gordon Sr. who runs an operation of 300-plus brood cattle and quarter horses. He has been farming all of his life, however, the family farm started over 50 years. Photo credit: USDA Photo by Preston Keres

Georgia and New Jersey Senators unite to aid Black, other farmers of color

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Freshman senator starts strong with legislation that “ensure equity in . . . recovery efforts” within the stimulus plan.

Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) has only been a member of the national lawmaking body for slightly more than a month since winning a runoff election. But he has wasted no time in using his position to assist Black and other farmers of color. For decades, Black farmers have been losing their farms due to racial discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and by banks who refuse to loan them money they need to stay afloat.

The provision was included in the COVID-19 stimulus package passed by the Senate this weekend.

Earlier this February, Warnock introduced the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, intending it to be part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package for the nation. Warnock’s bill provides $4 billion in direct payments to Black, Latinx and indigenous farmers to pay off USDA loans and outstanding taxes, and to make up for losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. An additional $1 billion will be used to address the USDA’s systemic racism, enable Black and other farmers of color to purchase more farmland, and provide them with legal assistance as needed.

The measure is similar to Senator Cory Booker’s Justice for Black Farmers Act. Introduced last November by the New Jersey Democrat and reintroduced this January, the Act will increase farmland purchasing opportunities for eligible Black farmers through grants,  cancel debts, provide federal tax relief, and a moratorium on farms’ foreclosures.

. . . .
Guests and students participate in the Buffalo Dance chanted and lead by the Poarch Band warriors, during the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Southeastern Indian Festival on Thursday, April 3, 2014, near Atmore, Alabama. In 2012, The United States Department of Agriculture’s Council for Native American Farming and Ranching (CNAFR) was created to advise the Secretary on ways to eliminate barriers to participation for Native American Farmers and Ranchers in USDA programs. The Council was initially established as part of the Keepseagle settlement and is pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), as amended, 5 U.S.C. App. 2. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

“I’m thinking about farmers like Ricky Dollison, whose family has been feeding Georgians for generations,” Warnock tweeted. “That’s why I introduced legislation to provide direct payments to farmers of color and address systemic racism at the U.S. Agriculture Department.”

The two senators are co-sponsoring each other’s bills. Also signing on as supporters for Warnock’s bill are Senators Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), who, like Booker and Warnock, is new to the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

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The National Black Farmers Association and The Environmental Working Group recently released a joint statement supporting the Justice for Black Farmers Act.  “By providing new access to land and credit and providing debt relief, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help right these historic wrongs,” the statement reads in part. “By providing new oversight and accountability within the USDA, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help address the roots of the USDA’s racist history. By making an unprecedented investment in training through historically Black colleges and universities and groups like the National Black Farmers Association, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will ensure that Black farmers have the tools they need to succeed.”

“The Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI-USA) is pleased to see the introduction of two bills .  .  . which would begin to deliver long-awaited justice for Black, Indigenous, and farmers of color,” reads the organization’s statement of endorsement for the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, as well as the Justice for Black Farmers Act. “RAFI-USA supports debt relief for farmers, particularly for farmers of color who have experienced decades of discrimination from U.S. Department of Agriculture.   .   .  These bills are an important start and lay the foundation for future work.”

The National Black Farmers’ Association supports the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act. Additional organizations backing the bill include the Black Belt Justice Center and the Black Farmers Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign.

To move the bill, the House Budget Committee included about $4 billion in debt relief for farmers of color in its $1.9 trillion package for COVID-19 relief. Only Mississippi Republican Congressman Trent Kelly claimed that the relief for farmers of color was biased. “We should never discriminate  .  .  . and that goes both ways,” he said. “Why should the color of your skin be the measure of whether you should get a USDA payback plan?” Kelly is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Margaret Summers has worked as a print and radio news reporter and a media relations professional. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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