By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation), a regional Black farmer, landowner and cooperative development association has been the primary advocate for Black farmers in combating lawsuits by white farmers to block debt relief assistance under Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan.
The Federation filed a motion to intervene in the Texas case of Miller vs. Vilsack, in October 2021. Judge Reed O’Connor denied the Federation’s motion to intervene on December 8, 2021. The Federation appealed this decision to deny its motion to intervene at the end of December. Both sides have submitted briefs in the appeal which is currently pending.
“It is with great concern that the Federation continues to work to persuade the Texas district court in Miller vs. Vilsack to allow the voices of and interests of our member-farmers to be heard during the Texas case that threatens their very existence. The impact of the delayed debt relief for Black and underserved farmers as it pertains to the American Rescue Act is already being experienced by our member-farmers in the form of foreclosure letters and lost land,” said Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation.
The Federation continues to advocate for its member-farmers with all of the legal instruments available for the USDA promised black farmer debt relief under Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan. The Federation cannot allow their voices to be excluded from this lawsuit because they have far too much to lose. The white farmers in the case will be able to provide their reasons for trying to prevent Black, Indigenous and other farmers of color (BIPOC) from receiving the USDA promised aid. In the spirit of racial justice and fairness, the Black and other farmers of color must be afforded the same opportunity to share with the judge why the case should be thrown out and they receive the USDA promised aid.
There were provisions in the proposed Build Back Better Act to provide debt relief to economically disadvantaged farmers, which included many of the Black farmers promised debt relief in the American Rescue Plan. The Build Back Better legislation has stalled in the U. S. Senate because of the opposition of all Republican and two Democratic Senators.
“With the shift away from the racial equity focus on debt relief provisions of the Build Back Better legislation and its passage at a standstill, our members desperately need the Judge in this lawsuit to allow them to intervene as parties so they can share their experiences of racial discrimination and the very real risk of foreclosure our member-farmers, especially those with guaranteed loans, continue to face if Section 1005 is not fully implemented as passed last year,” said Dania Davy, the Federation’s Attorney and Director of Land Assistance Programs.
Blanding stated, “The Federation of Southern Cooperatives celebrates the commitment Secretary Vilsack and the Biden Administration has shown towards the plight of the Black farmers and all farmers and ranchers of color. Secretary Vilsack and the USDA continues to honor their commitment to racial equity, as shown by the last week’s January 10th renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) extending the partnership between the USDA and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives at our administrative offices. We remain committed to executing all existing avenues available to remove all barriers experienced by farmers of color.”
The MOU renews a partnership between the Federation, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the US Forest Service, and the National Agroforestry Center aimed at increasing the number of black and underserved landowners in the South and support them in sustainable forestry and agroforestry practices.
Additionally, Secretary Vilsack announced the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund is the recipient of a new NRCS Equity agreement focusing on the critical role African-American and other underserved landowners play in forest management, food production, conservation, wood energy, and climate mitigation.
“The Federation is honored to continue to serve our members and their communities in ways that promote fair and racially equitable access to USDA programs and services and the critical technical assistance to improve program participation in programs towards promoting a more just and sustainable environment for all the communities we serve and the Southern region as a whole. The Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, located in Epes, Alabama (Sumter County) and Regional Community Forest Initiative will be critical components of this work, “stated Blanding.
The Federation can be reached through its website: http://www.federation.coop or by calling 205-652-9676 in Epes, Alabama.