Texas Ag commissioner’s challenge to debt relief further undermines Black farmers’ faith in USDA and government

Black farmers in Texas—and across America—have more than a few reasons to doubt the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They’ve been historically denied loans by the agency to fund their farms, discriminated against by the overwhelmingly white county committees that control local decision-making, and suffered government-approved land theft. Many Black farmers wanted to believe that when the USDA said it would begin canceling their outstanding debt to the agency in the spring of 2021, it would actually happen. Then Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller entered the chat. That April, Miller and a group of white farmers backed by Stephen Miller’s America First Legal filed a lawsuit accusing USDA of reverse discrimination. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the release of funds to farmers of color as the case makes its way through the court. The Texas commissioner—who is currently seeking re-election amid the felony bribery indictment of his top political consultant—has been outspoken about ending the program. In his words, Congress’ now-derailed debt cancellation to farmers of color is “facially illegal and constitutionally impermissible,” reports the Texas Tribune. The impact of the legal challenge is being felt by Black farmers he’s also tasked to represent. A Black Texas farmer and advocate told the Tribune that Miller’s actions have once again undermined trust in USDA and its local agencies, in addition to leaving them at risk of foreclosure and land dispossession. A full circle moment. —Safiya Charles