Black farmers can finally make claims for $2.2B USDA program

The USDA announced it is now accepting applications for its Discrimination Financial Assistance Program, which is being funded by the Inflation Reduction Act.

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The Biden-Harris administration officially opened its $2.2 billion relief initiative for Black farmers and others who’ve faced discrimination with federal government lending programs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it is now accepting applications for its Discrimination Financial Assistance Program, which is being funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. The program provides financial assistance for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who experienced discrimination by USDA in the agency’s farm lending prior to 2021.

Glenn Morris harvests corn on Oct. 11, 2021 in Princeton, Indiana. Morris is one of two full-time Black farmers who still farm in Lyles Station, a region of Indiana once dominated by Black farmers. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“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,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release provided to theGrio in advance of Friday’s announcement. 

Black farmers will undoubtedly seek to claim financial assistance under the program. For decades, they accused USDA of discrimination and denying them needed loans to keep their land and farms operating. 

The Discrimination Financial Assistance Program was established after the Biden-Harris administration’s initial $4 billion debt relief program for Black and other “socially disadvantaged” farmers came to a halt, due to a class-action lawsuit from white farmers who claimed the program under the American Rescue Plan discriminated against them.

Democrats in Congress rewrote the law to remove race from the eligibility requirements for the USDA program while the initial loan assistance in ARP remains in Texas court. Black farmers followed up with their own lawsuit intended to pressure USDA to forge ahead with the intended relief.

The latest loan assistance program for which farmers can now apply is broader and does not mention race explicitly; however, the administration made clear the program is intended for farmers who have faced harm by the USDA. 

After the IRA was signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022, the agency took time to select vendor partners and community-based organizations who, by law, will be responsible for educating farmers about the program and providing any needed assistance throughout the application process. Several of the organizations selected specifically work with Black and brown farmers.

“We realized the importance of this in terms of the overall equity work at the department,” said a USDA senior advisor who agreed to speak on background with theGrio on the condition of anonymity, “but also in terms of being able to incorporate some needed input from the people that we were trying to help.”

Norman Greer (right) and William Ballard (left) repair a grain table on Greer’s farm as the threat of rain delays their plans to harvest soybeans on Oct. 11, 2021 in Princeton, Indiana. Greer is one of two full-time Black farmers who still farm in Lyles Station, a region of Indiana once dominated by Black farmers. Black farms in the U.S. once numbered nearly a million, but now there are fewer than 36,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest farm census. Racist practices by the USDA, which provides farmers with loans to carry them from planting to harvest, have been blamed for some of that loss. The government is attempting to make amends with a provision in the pandemic relief bill that provides for debt forgiveness to help farmers of color. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The USDA official said formulating a process and selecting the right vendors “took some time,” but emphasized that “a lot of thought went into it because it’s critically important.”

Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who believe they are eligible will have to apply on the government website Applicants will have to go through the process of proving they were discriminated against. The applications will remain open until Oct. 31. 

The USDA stressed that the Discrimination Financial Assistance Program is not a first-come, first-serve process, and all applications received or postmarked before the October deadline will be considered. Payments will be awarded to recipients shortly after applications are reviewed; however, it’s not clear whether that review process will be by the end of the year or January 2024.

“Secretary of Agriculture says that our goal is to get these out by the end of the year, and we’re working towards that,” said the USDA senior advisor.

Despite its alleged history of discrimination, USDA has made concerted efforts to improve its practices and personnel as it relates to race. Last year, the agency formed a 15-member independent equity commission to address discrimination in its ranks, as theGrio previously reported.

Secretary Vilsack said in his statement about Friday’s announcement that the USDA is committed to helping discriminated farmers through the entire application process. 

The USDA secretary said the agency 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.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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