US Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia is joining the efforts to bring financial relief to Black farmers across the country.
On Tuesday (February 9), Sen. Warnock introduced the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act that would set aside $5 billion from the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief stimulus package to address the plight Black farmers have faced for years.
Under the bill, direct cash payments would go to farmers of color and $1 billion of the funds would be used to address institutional racism at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA has long been a source of skepticism for Black farmers because of broken promises of help and fair treatment.
President Joe Biden’s administration vowed to address past injustices that have led to a sharp decline in Black farmers being able to own their land and farms.
The USDA has expressed support for Warnock’s bill.
“It’s a bill crafted to address the immediate need for debt relief among those who have been marginalized and are hurting while also advancing long-term issues,” USDA Chief of Staff Katharine Ferguson said in a statement, per NBC News.
This proposal by Warnock, who was appointed to the Senate Agriculture Committee, follows Sen. Cory Booker’s Justice for Black Farmers Act introduced last year.
Booker’s bill proposed the establishment of a new agency within the USDA to give land grants to Black farmers and a new lending program designed specifically for Black farmers and ranchers who were routinely denied funding from USDA programs.
“Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” Sen. Booker said.
While the legislation brings some tangible moves toward relief and reconciliation for past discrimination, some Black farmers are wary of Biden’s nomination of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Department of Agriculture. Vilsack, who served under former President Barack Obama, failed to address discrimination complaints and fired Georgia Rural Development Director Shirley Sherrod based on altered video from a right-wing group. Her termination came from Vilsack even though he reportedly never reviewed the entire, undoctored footage.
Vilsack’s nomination was met with backlash from the NAACP and others who’d pushed for Rep. Marcia Fudge to take the helm of the Department. Rep. Fudge was instead nominated as Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The National Black Farmers Association showed support for the legislation and has maintained efforts to document the discrimination of the USDA.
“By providing new oversight and accountability within the USDA, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help address the roots of the USDA’s racist history,” a joint statement from the National Black Farmers Association and Environmental Working Group said in part. “These reforms are long overdue.”
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