It’s called the Discrimination Financial Assistance Program (DFAP). And it is the latest effort of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to live up to its commitment to correct past injustices against Black and other socially-disadvantaged farmers who faced years of denial and discrimination in federal agricultural loan programs.
The program accepts claims submitted by farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who found themselves shut out of or were seriously shortchanged in their loan requests for USDA programs prior to January 1, 2021.
It is open to all farmers who’ve faced discrimination regardless of where they live. And it’s not just limited to Black farmers who live in the Southern states, a spokesperson for the program said.
The application process is now open. Applications for this program are free, and do not require a lawyer. Visit www.22007apply.gov for detailed information about application procedures. Further assistance can be obtained by calling the National Call Center at 1-800-721-0970 or emailing email@example.com.
Dr. Willie Taylor is director of DFAP Mississippi Outreach in Vicksburg. Mississippi farmers who were victimized through USDA loan discrimination prior to Jan. 1, 2021 may contact Dr. Taylor directly. His office is at the King of Kings Christian Center (4209 Mount Alban Rd., Vicksburg, MS 39183). The contact information is 601-966-2822; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taylor’s outreach has a second office in Shannon, Mississippi.
“We had what we called our Open House Roll-Out meeting here in Vicksburg over the weekend,” Taylor said Monday. “It was just a roll-out to give out general information.”
Taylor covers the entire state and says Vicksburg is a good location for his outreach program.
“Farmers throughout the Delta Region from Bolivar County all the way down to Woodville are mostly familiar with Vicksburg. Vicksburg is more of a central location for these farmers as opposed to Jackson. About 50 percent of the state’s farmers are in the corridor that runs along the Mississippi. And everyone along the Mississippi River is familiar with Vicksburg. So, Vicksburg is the actual center of the farming industry. And it is a good location for the farmers’ outreach.”
This program covers discrimination based on the different treatment a farmer experienced because of race, color, or national origin/ethnicity (including status as a member of an Indian Tribe)
• Sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity
• Marital status
• Reprisal/retaliation for prior civil rights activity
The new DFAP should not be confused with the earlier Pigford I and Pigford II programs or the more recent $4 billion debt relief program for Black farmers set up under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March 2021. The ARPA program was brought to a halt by former operatives and lawyers from the Trump Administration, including Trump’s former senior adviser Stephen Miller. This group of spoilers filed federal lawsuits in Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Illinois that claimed the ARPA relief program discriminated against white farmers. That lawsuit, and the ARPA farmers’ relief money, is still tied up in the federal courts.
The $2.2 billion in DFAP financial assistance was provided under Section 22007 of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). A unique feature of the program is its structure and the management of the source money. Applications for the program are available now through October 31. Program administrators advise applicants to act now, because the October 31 deadline is closer than it may appear to be.
Myles Caggins III, chief of media relations for Windsor Group/Region East, explains how the USDA has contracted this program out to three vendors who are responsible for seeing it through its various stages. Windsor Group, a strategic IT outsourcing advisory firm, is one of the three vendors under USDA contract for the program.
As one of the three vendors contracted by the USDA, Windsor Group serves the eastern regions of the U.S. including Mississippi. Analytic Acquisitions serves the western regions. And Midtown Group serves as the national administrator.
“The DFAP for farmers is to be conducted through vendors,” Caggins said Monday via telephone and video conference call. “The USDA and its administration were responsible for much of the discrimination. So, this time around, the government said let’s conduct this program through vendors for a fresh face, fresh look without a direct association with USDA to have a more transparent process so there wouldn’t be any reprisals and because it was such a process that had to spin up pretty fast. Vendors, contractors are more efficient at doing that than the government itself.”
Matt Bowman, Windsor Group Region II project manager for the DFAP initiative, answers the question of what is different between the DFAP and ARPA programs.
“It’s different because the focus of this (DFAP) program is to specifically provide financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and landowners who experienced discrimination prior to 2021,” he said. “So, it differs in purpose and it also differs in amount. For example, under this DFAP program, the maximum amount you can get is $500,000, which is eons in terms of level of support. The only other initiative by the U.S. Congress or by USDA, either through their own volition or lawsuit, that rivals this is probably the amount of money set aside for Pigford II.
“The money itself, the financial assistance that comes in the form of a check, all of this process was given to third party contractors by the United States Congress,” said Bowman. “So even the disbursement of the checks will not come from USDA. They will actually come from a third-party contractor (Midtown Group) called the national administrator. And that is who is going to cut the checks. The USDA’s only job in this whole process is oversight. They do have this oversight function, but the execution is all by third-party contractors.”
“We encourage applicants to apply electronically, because the electronic application is a self-correcting application,” Caggins said. “It’ll let you know if you filled out a section incorrectly.”
Assistance is available for filling out the application. There are three ways to get technical assistance: First, go to the field site for Mississippi. Second, dial 1-800-721-0970, the National Call Center, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST. And third, the Virtual Barn gives technical assistance from 6-7 p.m. CST Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings. Visit the website tinyurl.com/virtualbarn.
Also, regional offices have been set up around the country so that individuals can visit, get help, and apply in-person; help will also be available at mobile events, Caggins said.
HOW MUCH AND WHEN?
People want to know how much money they can get, and when they will get it, Caggins said. The amount of a claim can run up to $500,000, he pointed out. And the target date for payment is early 2024. The payoff will come through USDA in the form of a check.
“In order to get the financial assistance, a person would have to have applied for a farm loan program prior to January 1, 2021,” said Caggins. “They may have actually received the loan, but the loan was not financially advantageous, or maybe they did not receive the loan for as much as they applied for. The discrimination was not always based on ‘yes,’ but that ‘yes’ is not getting to what the farmer needs, or the farmer had terms that put them in worse financial dire straits and they lost their farm. Or they weren’t able to buy the equipment or the seed or feed they needed for their farm or ranch.”
When asked if the DFAP program might be blocked in the same way that the $4 billion Black farmers relief program under the ARPA plan was, Caggins says, “We’re following the law and trying to get these applications out to farmers and to get these applications in.”
“We’re focused here on the implementation of the policy as established by Section 22007 of the Inflation Reduction Act and that’s the priority at Windsor Group,” he emphasized.