Borrowers in danger of losing their farms due to hefty sums of money owed to the Department of Agriculture received about $800 million in relief Tuesday.
Payments were made in line with an Inflation Reduction Act effort to aid distressed producers who were facing the loss of their operations. On Tuesday, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack detailed a handful of investments he said would help make about 11,000 farmers current on their loans and help some 2,100 others facing action from the Treasury Department.
The money is distributed from a $3.1 billion sum in the IRA; Vilsack said the department is also working on a separate program funded through a different IRA allocation to address borrowers who feel they have faced discrimination from USDA in the past after a previous debt forgiveness program was challenged in the courts and repealed by Congress in the IRA.
“The first order of business was to keep people on the land,” Vilsack told reporters. Under Tuesday’s action, Vilsack said borrowers who received relief “don't have to be concerned or worried about the possibility of foreclosure once the foreclosure moratorium is in place today is lifted.”
USDA has had a foreclosure moratorium in place since the earliest days of the Biden administration in January 2021. That moratorium cites the national public health emergency due to COVID-19, and lifting of that emergency could also reinstate regular debt servicing protocols by the department.
All told, Vilsack outlined plans to spend about $1.3 billion of the $3.1 billion in the IRA for distressed producers.
About 11,000 producers are set to receive $600 million in assistance to bring their loans current and will have their next loan installment paid by the department.
Assistance is also headed to some 2,100 borrowers who have already faced bankruptcy or foreclosure, sold off available assets, and are still short of repaying the loan. In those cases, Vilsack said Treasury Department action such as redirecting a federal tax return toward servicing existing debt “makes it really difficult for those 2,100 borrowers to get a fresh start and potentially get back in the business of farming.” Those borrowers will receive about $200 million.
An additional $66 million will be distributed to producers who used COVID assistance to delay a loan payment; under that program, around 7,000 borrowers will have their loans made current.
Finally, about $434 million will go toward case-by-case processes to help producers USDA expects will have tough financial times on the horizon. A department release identified 1,600 “complex cases” where borrowers are on the brink of bankruptcy or foreclosure and another 14,000 cases where producers could receive help to “avoid even becoming delinquent.”
Vilsack says that kind of approach, identifying problem loans and working proactively with a producer, will rely heavily on the expertise of local Farm Service Agency loan officers.
“They know when they see warning signs or an indication that there may be some difficulties or challenges, then they can work with the farmer instead of the farmer being reluctant to come into the office because they don't know what they're going to do,” Vilsack said.
Instead of taking actions that would force a producer out of their operation due to mounting debt, Vilsack said being less “adversarial” and instead being “someone is in a position of providing help and assistance” is “consistent with the responsibilities of government.”
According to an FSA official who briefed reporters, the average amount of money received by direct loan borrowers through Tuesday’s actions was $52,000. Producers with loans referred to the Treasury Department received an average of about $101,000, and guaranteed loan borrowers received an average of $172,000. Vilsack attributed the disparity in payments across loan types to a broader trend of the assistance applying to “virtually all the crops, all size operations, all types of operations, and all types of operators.”
Farm Credit Council, which works as a lender to producers across the country, said in a statement that it “will work closely with USDA and FSA to ensure this debt relief provides the intended assistance to distressed borrowers.”
Vilsack said producers receiving immediate relief can expect correspondence from USDA that their loan is now current and “they will remain current until the next annual payment is due next year in 2023.”
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