Debt Relief for Minority Farmers Needs More Thinking, Critics Say


The House Budget Committee on Monday approved estimated $ 4 billion in debt relief for minority farmers under a $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief program on Monday, a protesting member against the fact that the aid was unfair. The CBO said that due to incomplete data, the cost of repaying USDA loans and USDA guaranteed loans held by socially disadvantaged farmers could be over or under $ 4 billion.

Supporters of the debt relief plan were not immediately available to say how many farmers would be helped. The USDA definition of socially disadvantaged farmers includes Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian or Pacific Islander farmers and, in some cases, women. The number of black farmers has declined dramatically over the years. The USDA recognized the discriminatory treatment of black farmers in the so-called Pigford colonies of 1999 and 2010.

House Democrats plan to pass the coronavirus relief bill by the end of this week and send it to the Senate. The bill is modeled on the US relief plan proposed by President Biden. The House agriculture committee approved its $ 16 billion portion of the bill last week. The budget committee pulled together the provisions submitted by nine committees into the comprehensive $ 1.9 trillion bill and allowed a floor vote on a 19-16 vote that broke party lines.

“We should never discriminate … and it goes both ways,” said Rep. Trent Kelly, Republican of Mississippi, who criticized the debt relief proposal. “Why should your skin color be the measure or if you should get a recovery plan from the USDA?” Kelly, who voted last month to overturn Biden’s election, is also a member of the Agriculture Committee.

In the comments submitted to the Budget Committee, Republicans on House Agriculture Committee said the debt relief plan was a hasty solution when it would be “prudent to hold a hearing before enacting unapproved legislation that could have unforeseen impacts.” They wondered if there was a link between the pandemic and the financial situation of disadvantaged farmers.

House Agriculture chairman David Scott said minority farmers deserve the help because they were overlooked in the record $ 46 billion in farm subsidies last year and trade war payments in 2018 and 2019.

White farmers collected nearly 97% of USDA’s $ 9.2 billion pandemic payments from May to October 2020, said the Environmental working group, which tracks agricultural payments. The average payout to whites was $ 3,398, while black farmers averaged $ 422. A second round of coronavirus aid was launched in the fall and a third in January. In total, $ 23.8 billion was paid by the USDA.

Four Democratic members of the Senate Agriculture Committee unveiled the Colored Farmers Emergency Relief Act at the beginning of February. It was incorporated into the House Agriculture Committee’s $ 16 billion package. It provides for the payment of 120% of the outstanding debt on loans issued directly by the USDA and loans made by private lenders and guaranteed by the USDA. The extra 20% would pay taxes that would be assessed on the debt relief, say sponsors Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the committee chair.

The relief plan also allocates $ 1 billion for access to land, “heir property” issues and legal aid to socially disadvantaged farmers.

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