New legislation introduced this week aims to address ongoing harms to Black farmers. Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock introduced the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act earmarking $5 Billion in financial support for Black and other farmers of color.
A part of the pending $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic relief bill, the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act would provide $4 billion in direct cash payments to farmers of color. Funds can be used for paying off outstanding U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm loan debts and/or related taxes as well as help farmers meet the economic challenges of the pandemic.
It would set aside another $1 billion to support programming at the USDA to “root out systemic racism, provide technical and legal assistance to agricultural communities of color and fund under-resourced programs that will shape the future for farmers and communities of color.”
Appointed to the Senate Agriculture Committee, Warnock also joined senate colleagues, including Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren in sponsoring the Justice for Black Farmers Act. Originally introduced last year, the Justice for Black Farmers Act is in line with the Biden administration’s promise to promote racial equity across all government agencies and dismantle systemic racism.
The National Black Farmers Association and the Environmental Working Group issued a joint statement applauding the legislation. “By providing new oversight and accountability within the USDA, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help address the roots of the USDA’s racist history,” the statement said in part.
The organizations previously launched an interactive timeline of the USDA’s discrimination and disinvestment in Black farmers.
In November, the Black Professionals in Food and Agriculture called on Biden to implement several reforms within the USDA, including diversity and inclusion measures in the USDA’s political staffing and mandatory diversity and inclusion training.
For some, President Joe Biden’s nomination of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture was not quite in line with his expressed commitment to equity and justice. Vilsack served as USDA secretary during the Obama Administration. As reported by ABC News, some Black farmers fault Vilsack for failures to address a backlog of discrimination complaints during his tenure.
“We have already seen what Vilsack is going to do. We don’t have a prayer if he gets in there,” Rod Bradshaw a 67-year-old Black farmer who raises wheat, cattle and milo on 2,000 acres near Jetmore, Kansas, told ABC News.
One of Vilsack’s most notorious decisions was rushing to fire Georgia farmers advocate and organizer Shirley Sherrod based on a doctored video from right-wing agents seeking to sow discord.
Vilsack’s refusal to review the full evidence before firing Sherrod from her role as the USDA’s Georgia Rural Development Director is a glaring issue for some in regards to his ability to lead an agency in this new chapter.
Several groups including the NAACP and industry advocates actively opposed Vilsack’s appointment, lobbying instead for former Rep. Marcia Fudge to take on the role. Fudge was instead nominated to serve as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Her confirmation awaits a full Senate vote.
While Vilsack has pledged to address issues in the agency including his own prior missteps, it is yet to be seen what his leadership will yield this time around.
Anoa Changa is a movement journalist and retired attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Anoa on Instagram and Twitter @thewaywithanoa.
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