The multiple-billion-dollar fund earmarked to aid American farmers of color impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and centuries of discrimination by the US government remains stalled amid a vicious legal battle.
The Guardian’s Summer Sewell reported that white farmers across 10 states have filed 13 lawsuits against the debt relief program, stalling the payments to Black and Native farmers in need. In March, $5 billion was approved to support farmers of color who have faced generations of discrimination by the USDA –– $4 billion for debt relief and $1 billion for outreach.
Adding to the issue is the cycle discriminatory lending practices created among Black farmers in the US that has disqualified thousands of them from receiving the money.
A Cycle of Discrimination
For more than a century, the number of Black farmers and Black-owned farmland in the US has dwindled. Lloyd Wright, former director of civil rights at the USDA told The Guardian that many Black farmers stopped trying to get money from the USDA a generation ago because of the blatant discrimination, now those farmers may not get the debt relief because they don’t have loans.
“If you don’t have loans, you can’t have debt relief,” Wright said. Wright estimates that roughly 10% of Black farmers in the US qualify for the debt relief. That’s just 3,337 Black farmers out of Wright’s estimated 38,000 total Black farmers currently working in the US.
“You can’t call this the big Black farmer bailout when almost none of them will get anything. Even if they were to do it, it’s not what it was sold to be. But we’re probably not even going to get it,” Wright said.
“They could have done it within weeks. 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,” he added.
"The Last Plantation"
As the Black Information Network reported in June, the funds for Black farmers were halted abruptly by a federal judge after white farmers called the program racist. The USDA released a statement at the time "disagreeing" with the stop order on the payments,
“Many of Black farmers will end up foreclosed on before this thing is resolved,” Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, told The Guardian.
“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 be subjected to this very same kind of lawsuit. That’s the precedent we hope not to set,” Blanding said.
Wright said many farmers call the USDA “the last plantation.”
“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 [Tom] Vilsack to implement it, it shouldn’t surprise people when it’s not happening.”