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$5B relief program for Black farmers stalled by lawsuits from white farmers

13 lawsuits nationwide have claimed the “reparations” program discriminates against white farmers

Despite receiving 97% of COVID-19 farm relief funds in 2020, white farmers across the country are taking legal action to stop Black farmers from benefitting from a new relief bill that some have referred to as “reparations” for farmers of color.

The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, worth $5 billion in total, is one of the numerous articles passed along with the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed by the Biden administration on March 11 to help the economy recover from COVID-19. 

From the ARP Act, roughly $10.4 billion was allocated for agriculture and food supply programs through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly half of which was specifically earmarked for Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color.

Payments were supposed to become available to farmers in June, but as The Guardian’s Summer Sewell reports, only four borrowers received their money before a string of lawsuits against the federal government were filed by white farmers claiming the bill discriminates against them.

Thus far, 13 lawsuits have been filed in 10 different states along with three nationwide injunctions.

Virginia farmer and former Director of Civil Rights at the USDA Lloyd Wright told The Guardian payments could have been completed “within weeks,” but he is now doubtful that farmers of color will receive anything from the bill.

Interesting that these white farmers didn’t say anything or file lawsuits when Black farmers were the victims of racial bias by the USDA. https://t.co/tgWPTZm38O

— Henry Danner (@HenryDanner_) April 30, 2021

“We’re probably not even going to get it,” Wright said. “They were aware some angry people were trying to stop it. I think we’ll get the debt relief around the same time we get the 40 acres and a mule,” which was an unfulfilled promise the government made to Black citizens near the end of the civil war. 

Fifth-generation Florida farmer Claude Gay told Bay News 9 he tried applying for a USDA loan several times to no avail. The 71-year old owns 32 acres of crops that he tills completely on his own, having never had the resources to hire help.

“The beginners farmers loan, the social disadvantaged loan, you name it — I applied with no success,” Gay said.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, the nation’s sole organization formed and owned by Black farmers and landowners, has worked throughout the debacle to keep farmers informed of the latest updates. 

Executive Director Cornelius Blanding told The Guardian he and his staff are struggling with the limited information released by the USDA.

Blanding said new information is “very general, stating that the department stands behind the act that Congress passed,” adding that he and his organization remain hopeful the USDA will fight back against the numerous lawsuits, but as the clock ticks, Black farmers continue to face the consequences of financial hardship.

Handy Kennedy, founder of AgriUnity cooperative, counts his cows on HK Farms in Cobbtown, Georgia. The American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March gives $10.4 billion to support agriculture, with half going to disadvantaged farmers, benefiting Black farmers in a way that has not happened since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

“Many Black farmers will end up foreclosed on before this thing is resolved,” Blanding said.“This not only will lead to more land loss in communities of color, especially Black communities, it also sets a precedent that all USDA programs designed to address equity and decades of systemic racism will now be subjected to this very same kind of lawsuit. That’s the precedent we hope not to set.”

Wright, who worked for the USDA for nearly four decades, said the department’s lack of action is no surprise.

“Many of us call [the USDA] the last plantation,” Wright said. “Having worked there many years, that’s what it is. It doesn’t change much from one administration to another. So when you give them a job to carry out, and give us someone like Vilsack to implement it, it shouldn’t surprise people when it’s not happening.”

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