Thousands of Black farmers across the nation are in a quandary over how to get access to $5 billion in loan forgiveness and supplemental grants awarded them under the American Rescue Plan, a part of the COVID relief package.
Almost before the ink on the new award had dried, however, white farmers in several states began suing to block the program, thus tying up the money in the court system. Leaders of Black farmer organizations pledged to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock introduced the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act as a part of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package in early February. Four billion dollars was allocated to help the farmers pay off outstanding USDA farm loan debts and related taxes.
The $1 billion was included to root out systemic racism in USDA operations and to supply grants, scholarships, and other forms of aid to farmers of color, the text of the bill said.
The total package of $5 billion is completely legal and is badly needed, John Boyd, Jr., of Boydton, Virginia, founder-president of the National Black Farmers Association, said in an October 21 interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.
“We were promised this money,” Boyd said. “But we still can’t get it.”
Two top aides of former President Donald Trump, Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows were revealed by the Daily Beast as the instigators behind the lawsuit filed in Texas through their gadfly organization, America First Legal. Miller and Meadows solicited the white farmers to file the charges of racial discrimination because the relief money was designated for Black farmers. They even quoted Martin Luther King in their petition and claimed that “Irish, Italian, German, Jewish, and Eastern European peoples” should be included under the label of “socially-disadvantaged,” the Daily Beast reported. A Florida judge hearing a similar complaint placed a nationwide hold on the release of the money until the court action is completed.
Boyd said the court challenge is being launched by a group of large-scale white farmers.
“They claim reverse discrimination,” he said. “It is not reverse discrimination. When it was white farmers getting all of the debt relief all of the time, Black farmers were getting 30-day notices of foreclosure.
“I’m challenging these white farmers to come to the table and have a real conversation with the National Black Farmers Association.”
Boyd said the white complaints disregarded the disproportionate amount of money regularly given in subsidies to the largest farming operations versus the petty amounts given the much smaller Black farms.
The top 10 percent of farmers receive over $1 million in subsidies, he said. “The average subsidy for a Black farmer is a couple of hundred of dollars. It’s about greed. They – the white farmers – want all of the money.”
Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack, who served eight years in the same position under President Barack Obama, promised to redress the wrongs of the past and committed the USDA to a new set of operational principles. “We will, over the next four years, do everything we can to root out whatever systemic racism and barriers may exist at the Department of Agriculture directed to Black farmers, socially-disadvantaged farmers, people who live in consistently poor areas of rural America,” he said before the Agriculture Committee on March 26, 2021.
White farmers suing to block the aid to Black farmers have no cause to do so, based on the statistics Vilsack shared with the Congress on June 28. Vilsack revealed that Black farmers had received only one-tenth of one percent (0.1) of the $26 billion the Trump administration had provided to farmers during the pandemic. Only $20.8 million went to Black farmers and the rest went to white farmers, he said.
For many years, Black farmers had little confidence that the USDA was there to help them. Among some Black farming families, the word was: “Do not trust the USDA. They’re spying on you.”
Over the years, many Black farmers refused to participate in the Census of Agriculture that’s taken every five years. (The last Census of Agriculture was in 2017; the next is in 2022).
Then came the realization that if Black farmers are not counted in the Ag census, then they don’t exist, as far as the USDA was concerned, and they would not qualify for compensation for past losses and loan denials that came with the Pigford I (1999) and Pigford II (2010) multi-billion-dollar settlements. A massive effort was then made to register every Black farmer and Black-owned farming business that had been discriminated against by USDA.
JOHN BOYD’S GOAL
The fate of the American Black farmer over the last 100 years has been one of consistent decline and loss. Between 1910 and 1997, Black farmers lost about 90 percent of their farmland, the New Yorker reported in its July 15, 2019 edition.
John Boyd has determined that it’s past time to turn the situation around. His goal, he said in an April interview with the Richmond Free Press, is “to increase the number of Black farmers for generations to come.
“Today, we are facing extinction with less than 50,000 Black farmers. At the turn of the last century, Black farmers were 1 million farm families strong, representing 14 percent of the nation’s farmers. Tilling 20 million acres of land then, we are down to 4.5 million acres today.”
“The land knows no color,” Boyd says. “The land never mistreated anyone. If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.”
The 31st Annual National Black Farmers Association Conference is scheduled for Nov 5-6. 2021. For further information, visit https://www.blackfarmers.org.