A group of Republican lawmakers says legislation that helps farmers of color is unnecessary.
Republicans are threatening to block President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill — in part because the legislation includes aid to struggling farmers and ranchers of color, who have been among the hardest-hit groups during the pandemic.
The Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, which provides research and resources to help lawmakers craft legislation, decried the relief package for containing too many "liberal goodies" — including $1 billion for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a "socially disadvantaged" farmer as "a farmer or rancher who has been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudices because of their identity as a member of a group without regard to their individual qualities."
Last week, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) slammed the legislation, falsely claiming that "white people don't qualify."
"This is a 120% loan forgiveness for socially disadvantaged farmers," Greene said. "That means if you're white, you don't qualify. It's paying them a profit for their loan. And you only qualify for it if you're socially disadvantaged, and that's based on your race. ... It is racist."
The text contained in the COVID-19 relief bill does not specify that white farmers or ranchers — or indeed any specific race — are ineligible for the relief. However, the legislation is mainly focused on provisions for racial and ethnic groups that have historically been marginalized or denied federal aid.
USDA Census of Agriculture data shows that 95% of American farmers are white. Additionally, the USDA data notes, only 3.3% identify as Hispanic, 1.7% are Native American or Native Alaskan, 1.3% are Black, and less than 1% are Asian American. The number of farmers of color, particularly Black farmers, has been steadily on the decline for a century; in 1910, 14% of farmers were Black, and between 1940 and 1974, the number of Black farmers fell 93%.
Farmers of color have typically had difficulty obtaining loans and federal assistance, but their plight has only worsened during the pandemic. Most COVID-19 relief, including the majority of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to help farmers and ranchers, has gone to large-scale producers of cattle, dairy, and corn — while Black and brown farmers helming small family-owned farms were often denied requests for federal aid.
An Associated Press report notes that during Donald Trump's time in office, he never appointed an assistant secretary of civil rights. While the Department of Agriculture claimed the absence of leadership in the role did not impede the office from equitably distributing resources to farmers of all races and ethnicities, the Department has fielded some 3,700 complaints since 2017, the AP reported.
Cornelius Blanding, Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a co-op of more than 20,000 Black farmers in the United States, told digital outlet The Progressive, “It doesn’t matter how much money goes through the USDA. The packages are all going through a system where small and black farmers have always had a harder time accessing aid.”
All loans and grants for farmers and ranchers are funneled through the USDA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's deputy policy director, Juli Obudzinski, told the same outlet. But farmers without access to a Farm Service Agency-approved bank, or who don't have access to the internet — many of them farmers of color — are at a disadvantage.
And farmers of color have repeatedly been denied relief during the COVID-19 pandemic for reasons ranging from having bad credit — to owning a farm deemed too small or little-known.
Dorathy Barker, who owns a 10-acre farm in North Carolina and runs a nonprofit that helps farmers of color receive financial aid, said, "A lot of Black, Native American, and poor white farmers in North Carolina have bad credit. That doesn't mean they should be denied funding when they need it now.”"
Ultimately, experts say the $1 billion allotted to Black and brown farmers under President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan is an attempt to compensate for funding that farmers of color were previously eligible for yet did not receive.
"[Coronavirus] packages were not made with all farmers in mind," said Obudzinski, adding, "If you do not have access to a bank — or you do not have a bank that has an existing relationship with SBA, you’re not getting that funding."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.