The US Department of Agriculture moved forward with a $4 billion debt relief plan for Black Farmers on Friday (May 21). The agency gave the green light to allow eligible participants to receive the funds as soon as June of this year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The aid for Black farmers was championed by Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, who got the funds tied into the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed in March.
“It’s an important first step,” US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in an interview with the newspaper. “It’s reflective of the impact of over 100 years of policies and actions at the Department of Agriculture that have limited people from having opportunities. It acknowledges the disparity presently, and it’s really forward-thinking.”
Farms who are eligible to receive the payments should start to see notices for payments, Vilsack said. The payments will reportedly cover up to 120% of outstanding debt for an eligible participant.
The program received pushback from Republican lawmakers and some Black farmers were skeptical the funds would ever get approved. White farmers filed a lawsuit against the USDA over the program, claiming it reversely discriminates against them.
Farmland owned by Black farmers has decreased over the last century, in large part due to discriminatory lending practices. A program to help Black farmers establish land ownership was recently launched by John Deere as the nation continues to reckon with its racist past and its lasting legacy on the lives of Black Americans.
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