A steel cutout depicting a 19th-century Black farmer rises from a field across the highway from the small community of Nicodemus, Kansas. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
The COVID-19 relief bill has a $5 billion provision that will forgive debts for farmers of color.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia led the push for the inclusion of the funding.
Farmers of color, and especially Black farmers, faced years of discrimination by federal officials.
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For over a century, Black farmers faced discrimination from the US Department of Agriculture and were largely excluded from federal loans and farm improvement initiatives.
In an effort led by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed on Saturday includes a $5 billion provision that will forgive debts for Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other farmers of color, to enable reforms that will assist farmers with building generational wealth.
Last week, Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator, praised the incorporation of the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act into the COVID-19 bill.
He said that Democrats sought to “ensure equity in our recovery efforts and address longstanding injustices that have left some communities behind for far too long” and pledged that the aid “will not only help farmers of color, but will also lift up the economies of our rural communities working to recover from the economic turndown,” according to Rolling Stone.
Due to systemic racism from both private lenders and government officials, many Black farmers did not have set deed structures that allowed for properties to be passed down in whole, which created fractional ownership setups.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, strongly backed the effort, lauding Warnock for “coming in and and working to embrace this and get it over the line right away,” according to Rolling Stone.
In 1910, 14% of farmers in the US were Black, compared to 2% today, something that Stabenow highlighted.
“When you look at one of the very first ways that there was racial discrimination after slavery was legally abolished, it was lack of support for black farmers,” she said, adding that they “were discriminated against in terms of land ownership.”
Last year, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced “The Justice for Black Farmers Act,” which would allow Black farmers to individually reclaim 160 acres through a system of land grants to address racial discrimination in federal agricultural policy.
“Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” he said in a statement. “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory policies within the USDA [US Department of Agriculture] and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century.”
Booker reintroduced his bill last month with cosponsors Warnock, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
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