A second, broadened attempt at debt relief moves through Congress
Facing more than a dozen lawsuits to derail USDA debt relief to farmers of color, House Democrats this week put forth a new multibillion dollar plan to aid “limited-resource” farmers in high-poverty areas, Successful Farming reports. Noticeably absent from the new proposal is any mention of race. The plan—part of a $1.75 trillion welfare and climate change package championed by President Biden—would provide up to $500,000 to agricultural producers who have suffered discrimination in USDA lending programs. About $6 billion would go toward supporting economically distressed or underserved farmers in high-poverty areas to tackle credit and land access barriers, as well as funding for historically Black ag institutions, resolving heirs property issues, and creating equity commissions to investigate disparities at USDA and its programs. Provisions on financially distressed producers include about $1 billion for payments or modifications of USDA direct and guaranteed loans. The agency could provide payments of up to 100 percent of the debt owed or up to $150,000 per farmer. That would apply to borrowers who are at least 90 days past due on loan payments; owe more interest than their principal balance; have previously restructured a loan; are undergoing bankruptcy or foreclosure; or live in an area with a poverty rate greater than 20 percent. House Republicans critical of the initial debt relief program authorized under the American Rescue Plan in March described that program as divisive, saying it illegally excluded white farmers in debt. Part of that plan’s purpose was to address decades of admitted racial bias in USDA lending. It was also meant as a response to disparities in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, where white farmers received 99 percent of $26 billion in funding.