Democrats are moving to provide unprecedented amounts of debt relief and other assistance to Black farmers and other minority producers as part of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that's being designed to address racial justice as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The House Agriculture Committee will vote today on its piece of the package, a $16.1 billion, 17-page measure that also includes new aid for the food supply chain and rural hospitals as well as domestic and international food assistance. House Agriculture Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., and Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., worked together with the Biden administration in developing key provisions, sources say.
Under the measure, farmers who qualify as “socially disadvantaged" would be eligible for payments worth 120% of their indebtedness on direct or guaranteed Agriculture Department farm and storage facility loans. There is no spending cap on the provision.
The draft also earmarks $1 billion for community-based organizations and Black, Hispanic and Native American colleges and universities that assist minority farmers and forest owners with such needs as loans for land access, financial training and help with heirs’ property issues.
President Joe Biden’s USDA transition team started working on the provisions in December, according to a source familiar with the issue. The stimulus package “became the vehicle to make this happen,” the source said.
The bill says the debt relief is intended to address "the longstanding and widespread discrimination against socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in farm loan programs and across the Department of Agriculture, as documented for decades by Congress and Federal agencies, and alleviating discriminatory barriers preventing socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers from fully participating in the American farm economy."
In 2017, there were 45,508 Black farmers, 112,451 Hispanic producers and 58,199 producers who were American Indian or Native Alaskan, according to an analysis of USDA data by the Government Accountability Office.
The provisions were included in a stand-alone Senate bill called the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act released on Monday and also were made part of House Ag’s draft stimulus package released Tuesday.
Scott, the House committee's first Black chairman, said the bill would “put our Black farmers in a better position after suffering the impacts of this pandemic and the inability to receive equal access to USDA programs over decades.”
Stabenow said at a news conference Monday that Democrats would use the stimulus to help "farmers who have been left behind.”
The House Ag stimulus measure would provide a substantial infusion of aid — $4 billion — to the food supply chain. Of that amount, $3.6 billion would go for purchasing commodities and for helping processors, distributors and producers address pandemic-related needs, including personal protective equipment for workers. An omnibus bill enacted in December provided $1.5 billion for food supply chain needs.
Another $100 million out of the $4 billion is earmarked for small-scale meat, poultry and egg processors to offset the cost of inspector overtime. An additional $300 million is earmarked for COVID-19 surveillance in animals.
The bill also would:
- Provide $500 million for a variety of rural health care needs, including vaccine and testing capacity and compensation for lost revenue due to the pandemic.
- Extend through September a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
- Provide $800 million to the Food for Peace Program, which funds purchases of U.S. commodities for distribution to needy countries.
The measure will be part of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Democrats are trying to pass under the budget reconciliation process, which would allow the package to pass the Senate with no Republican support.
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“It is clear from the House bill that Congress intends to use the reconciliation process to the fullest,” said Eric Deeble, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The bill also sends a very strong signal to the new Administration to double down on efforts to address racial inequities within the food and farm system.”
But the top Republican on the House Ag Committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania, complained ahead of the measure’s release that GOP members of the panel hadn’t been consulted.
The package was “drafted behind closed doors, placing secrecy over solutions. The package is neither timely, nor targeted, and will fall devastatingly short of delivering direct relief for the agriculture industry and farm families,” he said.
The House Education and Labor Committee early Wednesday separately approved some additional child nutrition assistance in its portion of the overall stimulus package. The committee's measure would increase fruit and vegetable benefits under the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program from $9 for children and $11 for women per month to $35 per month for women and children during a four-month period.
The committee's measure also would extend through the end of the COVID-19 crisis the Pandemic EBT program that provides meal funding to families whose children ordinarily get free or reduced-priced meals at schools.
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