Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have announced legislation aimed at addressing and correcting history discrimination within the USDA in federal farm assistance and lending.
A press release on the topic explains that this discrimination has caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland, and has robbed Black farmers and their families of hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth. In 1920, there were nearly 1 million Black farmers in the U.S.; today, due to discrimination, there are fewer than 50,000 remaining Black farmers.
“Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” said Senator Booker. “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory policies within the USDA and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century. The Justice for Black Farmers Act will work to correct this historic injustice by addressing and correcting USDA discrimination and taking bold steps to restore the land that has been lost in order to empower a new generation of Black farmers to succeed and thrive.”
“The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund proudly endorses this historical legislation drafted in support of justice for Black farmers,” added Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. “It is a long time coming and definitely a giant leap in the direction of justice, equity and recognizing the value of Black farmers to agriculture and our Nation. This Act also begins to address the many wrongs and harm inflicted on Black farmers, their communities and our nation as a whole because of these wrongs. We applaud the efforts and courage of Senators Booker, Warren and Gillibrand and the many feet that were a part of this giant leap.”
The Justice for Black Farmers Act will enact policies to end discrimination within the USDA, protect Black farmers from losing their land, provide land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers and restore the land that has been lost, and implement systemic reforms to help family farmers country-wide. Specifically, it will:
- End discrimination within USDA: It creates an independent civil rights oversight board to conduct reviews of any appeals of civil rights complaints filed against USDA, to investigate reports of discrimination within USDA, and to provide oversight of Farm Service Agency County Committees. It also creates an Equity Commission whose responsibilities include developing recommendations to reform FSA County Committees. It puts reforms in place within the USDA Office of Civil Rights, including placing a moratorium on foreclosures during the pendency of civil rights complaints.
- Protect Remaining Black Farmers from Land Loss: The Act increases the funding authorization for the USDA relending program to resolve farmland ownership and succession issues. It provides funding for pro bono assistance, including legal assistance, succession planning, and support for development of farmer cooperatives, to Black farmers. It will create and fund a new bank to provide financing and grants to black farmer and rancher financial institutions.
- Restore the Land Base Lost by Black Farmers: The Act creates an Equitable Land Access Service within USDA to acquire farmland and provide land grants of up to 160 acres to existing and aspiring Black farmers, which will allow hundreds of thousands of new Black farmers to access land in the next decade. These new Black farmers will be provided access to USDA operating loans and mortgages on favorable terms.
The Act will also create a program allowing young adults from socially disadvantaged communities the opportunity to develop skills necessary for farming and ranching; empower HBCUs and advocates for Black farmers; assist all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; and enact system reforms to help all farmers and ranchers, including strengthening the Packers and Stockyards Act in order to stop abusive practices by multinational meatpacking companies.
“For generations, the cries of Black farmers dispossessed of land and livelihood have gone unnoticed,” said Leah Penniman, Co-Executive Director and Farm Manager, Soul Fire Farm, in the press release. “In my 25 years as a farmer and land justice worker, I never dared to imagine that such an elegant, fair, and courageous piece of legislation as the Justice for Black Farmers Act could be introduced. We now have the opportunity to correct decades of discrimination, preserve agricultural lands, and equip the next generation of farmers who will feed the nation. Senator Booker and Senator Warren deserve profound credit for listening when no one else would.”
“For decades, racist policies have robbed Black farmers of the economic opportunity to thrive in our country’s agricultural industry. I’m glad to cosponsor Senator Booker’s bill, which goes a long way toward restoring and protecting property rights of Black farmers, rooting out discriminatory policies, and providing Black farmers with the necessary tools to succeed,” added Senator Warren.