Black and brown farmers say Cut Inflation Act breaks promise of redress for ‘past wrongs’ | KCUR 89.3
The huge Inflation Reduction Act has equally huge implications for farmers of color who were promised debt relief more than a year ago.
The legislation repeals and replaces a section of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which provided funding to provide debt relief to farmers of color who were discriminated against by the US Department of Agriculture. Since its passage in March 2021, the funding has fallen into legal limbo due to multiple lawsuits from banks and of white farmers alleging discrimination.
The Cut Inflation Act passed the House last week and is now heading to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. In its final form, the legislation repeals ARPA Section 1005, which provided funding for “socially disadvantaged farmers,” defined in the law as farmers who have experienced racial or ethnic bias. Instead, the IRA is providing $3.1 billion to economically “distressed” farmers – of any race – “whose farms are at financial risk”. It also includes $2.2 billion for farmers who have been discriminated against and can prove it.
“By repealing all of this, you are really going back on your word and breaking the contract between black and other farmers of color and the USDA,” said John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association.
Many farmers have been expect more than a year for promised debt relief, unsure of the status of their loans. While farms are protected from foreclosures under a moratorium issued by the Biden administration during the pandemic, some farmers fear losing their farms once the moratorium is lifted.
“(Congress) has basically conceded defeat,” said Louisiana-based agriculture and food attorney Ebony Woodruff.
Woodruff said vague language in the legislation would increase competition for funding, and farmers of color could be deemed ineligible if they stop repaying their loans after receiving notice of relief under ARPA. .
“They’re really in limbo,” she said. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
Boyd Jr. said debt relief, as originally promised, could have saved many black-owned farms.
“Debt relief can provide a fresh start for a farmer who is behind on their debts or owes USDA money or operating loans or equipment loans,” said he declared.
Instead, as written, the law will result in further loss of black-owned farmland, Boyd Jr said.
Black-owned farmland has already shrunk dramatically over the past century. According to a recent study, discriminatory lending practices at the USDA have cost black farmers an estimated $326 billion worth of farmland, though researchers admit that’s likely a serious undercount. The American Rescue Plan Act aimed to reverse this trend.
“It was this administration’s attempt to right some of the past wrongs that black farmers like me faced through discrimination,” said Boyd, who farms in Virginia.
For now, Boyd said he hopes Biden will enact a moratorium on farm foreclosures.
“It’s the least he can do,” he said. “A farmer should not lose his farm.
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This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM.