Minority farmers who have been victims of systemic discrimination for decades will begin to receive debt relief from early June under what Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday as one of the most important civil rights laws in decades.
In an article published in USA Today on Friday, Vilsack also called the debt relief a “major victory for civil rights,” saying it responds to systemic discrimination perpetrated against farmers and ranchers of color by the Department of Agriculture.
“This is a landmark decision that will symbolize that the USDA genuinely cares and that the Biden administration is doing all it can to fix fences and show minority farmers that they care about them during their administration.” , said Abraham Carpenter, 59. – a former black farmer whose family grows fruits and vegetables on approximately 1,500 acres near Grady, Arkansas.
Carpenter expects debt relief to bring in around $ 200,000 in farm loans, freeing up money that can now be invested in farming operations like buying seeds and equipment instead of paying back loans.
“I know they’ve said a thousand times that they want to bring everyone together to make sure everyone is treated fairly. You can say it a million times., But until you show it, no one really believes it, “he said.” But this action to pay off the debts of minority farmers shows that they really care about treating everyone fairly. “
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Services Agency announced Friday that it has issued the first notice of availability of funding under the American Rescue Plan Act for borrowers with eligible direct farm loans. A subsequent notice to farmers receiving government guaranteed agricultural loans held by private lenders will be issued within 120 days.
A provision in the pandemic relief law directs the USDA to repay agricultural loans to nearly 16,000 minority farmers and to begin tackling issues of racial equity. It authorizes the Ministry of Agriculture to pay up to 120% of outstanding direct and guaranteed loans for socially disadvantaged farmers and breeders.
“I feel really good,” said Rod Bradshaw, a 68-year-old black farmer who raises wheat, cattle and milo on 2,000 acres near Jetmore, Kansas. “We knew it was going to happen, we didn’t know when.”
Bradshaw, who has farmed since buying his first land in 1976, has filed several complaints of discrimination with the Department of Agriculture over the years. He said he had four direct loans totaling over $ 300,000 from USDA which he said will be repaid as part of the debt relief plan.
“It’s going to free us up and get us halfway to doing things as usual,” Bradshaw said upon hearing of Friday’s announcement. “This has been going on for so long, this is the first step in getting black farmers and farmers of color back to where they need to be.”
The Agriculture Ministry said in its press release that for much of its history, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have faced discrimination, sometimes overt and sometimes through deep-rooted rules and policies.
“USDA is once again committed to earning the trust of American farmers and ranchers by using a new set of tools provided in the US bailout to increase opportunity, advance fairness and fight systemic discrimination in USDA programs, ”Vilsack said.