New USDA Deputy Secretary Talks New Farmer Debt Relief
Minority farmers are now eligible for loan relief, as U.S. Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary Jewel Bronaugh announced.
Bronaugh, from Petersburg, led a town hall and question-and-answer session at Virginia State University on Wednesday morning to discuss the new loan forgiveness program for socially disadvantaged farmers. The plan was first introduced in March as part of the American Rescue Plan, the latest COVID-19 relief bill.
“There are cumulative effects of systemic racism that have been in the policies, regulations and programs of the USDA that have created a situation where socially disadvantaged farmers have lost,” said Bronaugh, who was nominated for the first time in March.
Socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers – workers who identify as Black, Native American or Alaskan, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander – are eligible for loan repayments of up to 120% for direct and guaranteed agricultural loans. eligible Farm Service Agency (FSA), or Farm Loans for storage facilities. Borrowers can also get help with authorized loans for micro, youth, conservation and water, to name a few.
The 120% of payments will cover all eligible loan balances as of January 1, 2021. The remaining 20% ââwill go towards tax obligations and other loan-related costs.
The first wave of payments is scheduled for June 1. The USDA has sent out funding notices to all qualified borrowers who have the green light to get the money. Aid relief is applicable to current debt as of January 1, 2021, but if a person has made any payment after that date, they will be fully compensated, Bronaugh said.
For those who have not yet applied, interested candidates can apply at any time this year. Borrowers should return the letter with their balance information to USDA to initiate the repayment process. The schedule for applying and receiving debt repayments ranges from four to six weeks, Bronaugh said.
Bronaugh said there was additional money left for outreach and technical assistance, such as VSU’s Small Farm Outreach Program, to ensure that many skilled farmers and ranchers get the right information.
âThe resources provided to USDA for this debt are really just a small step that we hope USDA can take to help socially disadvantaged farms start moving forward,â Bronaugh said.
Farmers from across the state attended the meeting. Many have expressed their own prejudiced experiences in trying to operate their farms. A Louisa County farmer noted how great this act is for black farmers like him, it’s still too late.
âWe can’t fix some of this without going further,â said Renard Turner, co-owner of Vanguard Ranch in Louisa County.
Two lawsuits were brought against the aid program. Sid Miller, a commissioner for the Texas Department of Agriculture, has filed a lawsuit claiming the initiative discriminates against white farmers and ranchers. He initially applied as an individual, but gained support from the conservative nonprofit America First Legal.
The other complaint comes from a federal court in Wisconsin as five Midwestern farmers saying they cannot participate in the Aid initiative because they are white.
The Department of Justice will represent the USDA in court, Bronaugh said. The deputy secretary assures that the proceedings will have no impact on the reorganization procedure.
“I will tell you with 100% assurance that the USDA is going to move forward as we have been designated by Congress,” Bronaugh said.
Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Bettina Ring says the state is ready to follow suit with the debt relief program and continue to raise its minority farmers and ranchers.
âIn Virginia, we faced a number of challenges for minority and black farmers in the state,â Ring said. “… [We’re] make sure we get more support on the ground for what they really need. “