Cut Inflation Act rewrites aid program for struggling black farmers

WASHINGTON — A $4 billion program to help Black Farmers and Other “Socially Disadvantaged” which never saw the light of day last year a...

WASHINGTON — A $4 billion program to help Black Farmers and Other “Socially Disadvantaged” which never saw the light of day last year amid legal objections will be replaced by a plan to make relief funds available to farmers facing discrimination.

The changes, which are embedded in climate and tax legislation known as the Cut Inflation Act 2022, are drawing backlash from farmers than the original debt relief package, which was part of the 2021 $1.9 trillion US bailout, was meant to help. The new agenda is the latest twist in an 18-month period that has underscored the challenges facing the Biden administration’s attempts to make racial equity a centerpiece of its economic agenda.

Black farmers have been in limbo for months, unsure if the debt relief they have been promised will be forthcoming. Many have invested in new equipment after asking for money last year to help pay off their debt. Some received foreclosure notices from the Department of Agriculture this year as the program languished.

The legislation, which Congress passed this week, will create two new funds to help farmers. One, worth $2.2 billion, will provide financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest owners who faced discrimination before 2021. The other provides $3.1 billion to the ministry of Agriculture to make loan payments or loan modifications to farmers in financial difficulty.

The money will replace the $4 billion program that was supposed to help about 15,000 farmers who received federal government loans or bank loans backed by the Department of Agriculture. They included farmers and ranchers who had experienced racial or ethnic bias, including those who are Black, Native American/Alaska Native, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic.

Last year’s pandemic relief package included an additional $1 billion to educate farmers and ranchers of color and improve their access to land.

White farmers and groups representing them questioned whether the government could base debt relief on race and said the law discriminates against them. The program was frozen as the lawsuits made their way through the courts.

The program also faced bank resistancewho argued that their profits would suffer if the loans they had given to farmers were suddenly repaid.

Fearing the program could be blocked entirely, Democrats rewrote the law to remove race from the eligibility criteria. The definition of discrimination is unclear and the legislation appears to give the Ministry of Agriculture wide discretion to distribute the money as it sees fit.

Groups representing black farmers, who have faced decades of discrimination from banks and the federal government, are disappointed that the money is no longer earmarked specifically for them.

President Biden “returned his commitment to helping black farmers,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.

Comparing the situation to the broken promise in the 19th century that former slaves would be given 40 acres and a mule, Mr Boyd added: “Justice does not come alphabetically in this country. Black is always last.

A class action lawsuit filed by white farm groups against the Department of Agriculture took place in Texas this year, and organizations representing black farmers have expressed dismay at the new measure passed by Democrats, but waives to a legal battle over whether the government can address America’s racist legacy through legislation.

“It’s unfortunate that the administration has kind of directed racial equity as a priority and, at the first sign of litigation, kind of turned its back on the difficulty of getting racial equity work done,” he said. said Dãnia Davy, director of land conservation and advocacy at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.

Ms Davy said her organization was caught off guard by the new legislation after months of discussions with lawmakers and the Biden administration over how to help black farmers.

Democrats and the Biden administration hailed the legislation as progress.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said on Twitter this week“I am proud that the Cut Inflation Act contains over $5 billion that will allow thousands of struggling small farmers to stay on their land and provide financial relief to black farmers and others. who have suffered discrimination from the USDA.”

Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement that the new law would give his agency tools to help distressed farmers and bring justice to those who had faced discrimination.

“The Biden-Harris administration is deeply committed to upholding civil rights and advancing equity,” Mr. Vilsack said, “as well as doing good for agricultural producers, especially small and medium producers and of those that USDA programs have traditionally excluded or not fully served.

The Department of Agriculture plans to work with non-governmental agencies to develop the design and process for its part of the program. One of the most difficult tasks will be to determine how to define “discrimination” and, therefore, eligibility.

Gene Sperling, who oversees the Biden administration’s pandemic relief programs, said it was good news the money was soon going to farmers who needed it.

“Anyone with a sober and realistic view of the state of affairs,” Mr. Sperling said in a statement, “must recognize that the Senate took on a virtually hopeless situation where no funds were available for farmers in distress or those who have been discriminated against and turned around in one where there is now $5 billion that can start flowing to tens of thousands of farmers.

It’s unclear how quickly the money will be disbursed or whether white farmer groups who challenged the original law will fight the new programs.

Rick M. Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which represented white farmers in one of the early lawsuits, said he was reviewing the new legislation.

“Generally, our view is that you cannot condition government benefits on the basis of race,” Mr. Esenberg said.

America First Legal, a group led by Stephen Miller, the Trump administration’s senior policy adviser, and which has represented white farm groups, said the revised legislation was an acknowledgment that the original programs were illegal.

“Apparently, President Biden and his allies in Congress have acknowledged that their illegal, unconstitutional, and racially discriminatory agenda was effectively crushed in court by America First Legal on behalf of his clients,” said Gene Hamilton, an attorney. of the Trump administration who works for America First Legal.

“The bill’s final passage through the House this week will be their public acknowledgment of their defeat,” Mr. Hamilton added, “and we will be prepared to beat them again in court on any scheme by which they attempt to replace it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Cut Inflation Act rewrites aid program for struggling black farmers
Cut Inflation Act rewrites aid program for struggling black farmers
Newsrust - US Top News
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