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In a significant move aimed at addressing longstanding grievances, the Biden-Harris Administration has officially launched a $2.2 billion relief initiative to support Black farmers and others who have faced discrimination within federal government lending programs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it is now accepting applications for its Discrimination Financial Assistance Program, which will provide financial aid to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who experienced discrimination in USDA farm lending prior to 2021. This landmark initiative, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, marks a crucial step towards rectifying historical injustices.
The Significance of this program for Black Farmers and others
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the significance of this program, stating, “The opening of the application process is an important step in delivering on our commitment of providing financial assistance to those who faced discrimination in USDA farm lending, as swiftly and efficiently as possible.”
The announcement comes after decades of Black farmers accusing the USDA of discrimination and being denied loans critical for their livelihoods and the preservation of their land.
The Discrimination Financial Assistance Program was established following the suspension of the Biden-Harris Administration’s initial $4 billion debt relief program for Black and “socially disadvantaged” farmers. The program faced a class-action lawsuit from White farmers who claimed that it discriminated against them under the American Rescue Plan.
In response, Democrats in Congress revised the law to remove race from the eligibility requirements for the USDA program, while the initial loan assistance under the American Rescue Plan remains subject to ongoing litigation in Texas. In an effort to urge the USDA to move forward with the intended relief, Black farmers initiated their own lawsuit.
While the new loan assistance program does not explicitly mention race as an eligibility factor, the administration has made it clear that it is intended for farmers who have suffered harm due to USDA practices. The USDA has taken considerable time to select vendor partners and community-based organizations responsible for educating farmers about the program and offering assistance throughout the application process. Notably, several of the selected organizations work closely with Black and Brown farmers, underscoring the Administration’s commitment to equity and inclusive decision-making.
Acknowledging the importance of these efforts, a senior advisor at the USDA, speaking on the condition of anonymity, stated, “We realized the importance of this in terms of the overall equity work at the department but also in terms of being able to incorporate some needed input from the people that we were trying to help.” The selection process for vendors and the formulation of an effective application process required careful consideration, emphasizing the critical nature of this initiative.
Farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who believe they are eligible for assistance must apply through the government website 22007apply.gov. Applicants will be required to provide evidence of the discrimination they have faced. The application window will remain open until October 31, and the USDA has clarified that the program will not operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. All applications received or postmarked before the October deadline will be given due consideration. Payment disbursement to successful applicants will commence shortly after the review process, although the exact timeline remains uncertain, with the potential for disbursement to extend into January 2024.
Addressing its troubled history regarding discrimination, the USDA has made concerted efforts to improve its practices and personnel. Last year, the agency established an independent equity commission comprising 15 members with the objective of combating discrimination within its ranks.
Secretary Vilsack emphasized the USDA’s commitment to assisting farmers throughout the application process, stating, “We will continue to work with our national vendor partners and community-based organizations to make sure eligible farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have clear information about what is available to them, how to apply, and where to obtain assistance with their questions at each step of the way.”
With this initiative, the Biden-Harris Administration is striving to provide meaningful support and redress the systemic challenges faced by marginalized farmers across the United States.