Biden Administration Ramps Up Debt Relief Program to Help Black Farmers

Representative James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who played an influential role in helping Mr. Biden secure the party’s preside...


Representative James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who played an influential role in helping Mr. Biden secure the party’s presidential nomination, has also been a major voice highlighting the experience of Black farmers and helped drive the stimulus provisions, according to congressional staff aides.

The funding aims to address longstanding problems with discrimination at the Agriculture Department — particularly its refusal to grant farmers of color the same access to capital that helped tide over white farmers during difficult periods in history. Minority farmers have confronted other issues, like a lack of access to legal services that have complicated farm inheritances, and a lack of public investment in rural communities and on reservations, including in the water supply and roads and transportation to get farm products to market.

Those factors led to a substantial loss of land. While the number of farmers in the United States has fallen sharply over the past century as farms mechanized and more people found work in factories and offices, Black farmers suffered disproportionately.

According to Agriculture Department data, in 1920, the United States had 925,708 Black farmers, making up 14 percent of farmers in the country. But by 2017, only 35,470 of the nation’s more than two million farms were run by Black producers, or 1.7 percent.

Joe Patterson, 70, whose family has farmed in the Mississippi Delta for decades, said discriminatory lending had forced many Black farmers around him out of business over the years, and led to some lean times for his own family.

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

“When it all boiled down to it, it was a lack of funds that kept the Black farmers down,” said Mr. Patterson, who spoke by phone from the cab of a tractor he had pulled over to the side of the road. “If we had the same amount of investment that the other farmers had, a lot of Black farmers would still be farming this date.”

He added, “But because they didn’t have those funds, each year would get worse and worse.”

Anthony Daniels, a Democrat in Alabama’s state legislature who serves on the board of One Country Project, a Democratic group focused on rural issues, said that many Black farmers were still suffering from burdensome debt, and that the stimulus provisions would help them pay off loans and related taxes.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden Administration Ramps Up Debt Relief Program to Help Black Farmers
Biden Administration Ramps Up Debt Relief Program to Help Black Farmers
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