In a strategic move, a group of Democratic senators have rolled back programs passed in the American Rescue Plan in order to repurpose the funds into the Inflation Reduction Act. The hope is that the funds will get to Black and farmers of color more quickly. The bill will provide $2.2 trillion for a program to assist farmers who experienced discrimination in Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm lending programs before January 2021. $3.1 billion will also go to distressed borrowers of direct or guaranteed loans administered by the Farm Service Agency, The Hill reports.
The original American Rescue Plan, which provided debt assistance to farmers of color who experienced years of racism, was hailed as a victory at the time. Unfortunately, lawsuits from white farmers across the country alleging discrimination have held up funding for more than a year.
To correct this, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Vilsack, as well as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have fought for ways to get the funds in this new legislation.
“By giving USDA the authority to modify debt for distressed borrowers, we will keep family farmers around the country on their farms. For those farmers, particularly Black farmers, who have suffered USDA discrimination, this legislation sets in motion a process to right those wrongs,” he said.
“This relief will be a lifeline for our farmers who are most at-risk of foreclosure or losing their land, as well as a boost to farmers who have been left behind for decades,” Warnock said in a statement on Wednesday. He called the aid significant “for economically distressed farmers all across Georgia and the country.”
Some advocates claim they are surprised by the move and are concerned about implementing these funds. 25% of disadvantaged farmers identify as Black, and under 2% of American farms are Black-owned. The director of land retention and advocacy at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives has real concerns about whether the new program will stop discriminatory practices from happening.
“Unfortunately, the definition of discrimination is lacking as well as any protected classes, and so what will discrimination even mean? Who will these adjudicators be, and how will they decipher what discrimination is when there’s no reference to our civil rights, protected classes?” she said.