Lawsuits to block $4 billion in loan forgiveness for minority farmers show a lack of historical awareness, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the BIO online convention on Wednesday. "It's a wonder where those farmers were over the last 100 years, when their Black counterparts were being discriminated against and didn't hear a peep from white farmers about how unfortunate that circumstance was."
A dozen white farmers "have established a strong likelihood" that a loan forgiveness program for minority farmers is unconstitutional, said the federal judge hearing the lawsuit in Green Bay, Wisconsin. District judge William Griesbach issued a nationwide order blocking debt-relief payments by USDA while he decides — possibly next week — whether to issue an injunction against the program enacted by Congress in March.
Socially disadvantaged farmers will begin receiving letters this week alerting them of a Biden administration program to pay off loans they owe to the USDA — "historic debt relief" in the words of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Loan forgiveness could total $4 billion by the time, later this year, the government retires bank loans made to minority farmers with USDA loan guarantees.
With federal pandemic aid in their hands, farmers and ranchers borrowed far less money than usual from ag bankers during the opening months of this year for equipment, livestock, and operating expenses, according to a Federal Reserve survey of commercial lenders.
With Republicans complaining of discrimination against white farmers, the House passed a coronavirus bill on Wednesday that would provide an estimated $4 billion in debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers.
Congress is poised today to pass one of the most sweeping relief programs for minority farmers in the nation’s history, through a provision of President Biden’s pandemic stimulus bill. Although the landmark legislation, which would cancel $4 billion worth of debt, seemed to emerge out of nowhere, it actually is the result of more than 20 years of organizing by Black farmers.(No paywall)
In just one month, a proposal for $4 billion in debt relief for Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers went from just-introduced legislation to a near-reality, needing only a final vote in the House as early as Tuesday. The Democrat-authored initiative to retire the farmers' debts on USDA loans is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan backed by President Biden.
A three-month extension of higher SNAP benefits and $4 billion in debt relief for minority farmers are in the hands of the Senate following a 219-212 vote by the House over the weekend. "We are one step closer," said President Biden, who used the phrase to describe elements of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, from funds for coronavirus vaccinations and unemployment benefits to "helping millions of Americans feed their families."
The Biden administration on Wednesday announced a temporary suspension of past-due debt collections and foreclosures of farmers who borrowed money from the USDA and are in financial distress.
Farm income recovered this summer from the steep coronavirus-driven declines of last spring, according to ag bankers in the Plains and Midwest who took part in Federal Reserve surveys. "An influx of government payments and higher prices for agricultural commodities provided greater support for farm finances in the third quarter and seemed to limit demand for financing," said a summary by two Kansas City Fed economists.