On a 90-1 roll call, senators voted on Monday to provide $5 million for a USDA "re-lending" program to resolve ownership of so-called heirs' property, an issue that has vexed black farmers for generations. Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said the issue, which has led to forced sales of land, was "yet another vestige of the Jim Crow era that has lasted far too long and we must correct."
The 2018 farm bill included a provision to make it easier for farmers operating on so-called heirs property — land that passed from one generation of a family to another without a clear title — to obtain a USDA farm number and thus gain access to a multitude of government programs. The Senate is scheduled to vote this afternoon on an amendment by Alabama Sen. Doug Jones to provide $5 million for a re-lending program that would be a step toward resolving ownership issues.
At a listening session on Wednesday, landowners and advocates spoke to the Department of Agriculture about the importance of reforming how the agency aids heirs property owners. The listening session was convened to collect input on a series of heirs property reforms mandated by the 2018 farm bill.
Since the end of Reconstruction, following the Civil War, many black farmers have felt the twin pressures of hardship and neglect, reinforced by systematic discrimination from government agencies and financial institutions. The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy institute, issued a recent report advocating for policy changes to correct those inequities, many of which it says remain today. (No paywall)
The farm bill contains crucial improvements for black farmers and increased funding for historically black land-grant universities, members of the Congressional Black Caucus said on a media call Monday. The bill also includes provisions for heirs’ property owners — land passed down without formal title — that clears the way to apply for farm programs.
While debate over the farm bill has mostly centered on food assistance programs, an under-the-radar provision in the omnibus legislation could greatly assist farmers and ranchers who operate on heirs’ property—that is, inherited land that lacks clear title. The provision is particularly important to black farmers, because an estimated 40 percent of African-American owned land is located on heirs' property and as a result, those farmers have been blocked from federal farm programs.