Federation holds 56th Annual Meetings; vows to help every Black farmer in the South that wants to file a discrimination application by October 31 deadline

Pictured: Crowd at Annual Meeting and Mrs Xernona Clayton getting award

By: John Zippert, Democrat Co-Publisher

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund held its 56th. Annual Meeting last Thursday to Saturday, August 17-19, 2023. Thursday’s activities, including the Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award banquet, were held at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Birmingham and Friday and Saturday’s activities were held at the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, Alabama.

At the business meeting on Saturday, Cornelius Blanding, Federation’s Executive Director stated, “We want to help every Black farmer in the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, where we have offices and staff, to prepare and submit an application for assistance if they were discriminated against in the USDA farm lending process, before January 1, 2021.

“We will be holding open weekly sessions in each state to meet with farmers to explain the program and help people to fill out the 40-page application for assistance correctly, including all necessary required documents. We will also be scheduling one-on-one conferences with farmers to help them with these DFAP applications. We have a short timeline to reach everyone since the current deadline date for this program is October 31, 2023, just 69 days away, from today.”

Blanding said that the Federation, is one of nine “cooperator organizations” funded by USDA to help farmers with the DFAP process.
Other organizations that are participating and helping are listed on the USDA website: http://www.22007apply.gov.

USDA officially announced the availability of applications for DFAP in mid-July. Section 22007 of the Inflation Reduction Act, passed a year ago, contains $2.2 Billion for payments to any farmers discriminated against by USDA in farm loan programs. Any farmer who borrowed or attempted to borrow for farming purposes is eligible to apply and must “tell their story” of mistreatment by the government agencies in providing the assistance or in not providing the requested assistance.

Farmers are required to scan and upload documents, including two forms of identification, an IRS W-9 form, their land deed or leases, farm plans, receipts for farm related purchases, any correspondence or records
(receipts for service) received from USDA agencies, actual loan documents, statements under penalty of perjury from neighbors and non-related parties who know of the discrimination and any other relevant materials.

Attorney Dania Davy, the Federation’s Director of Land Retention said, “this is not another lawsuit, this is a different process, handled by USDA contracted third parties. It is similar to the lawsuits in terms of the information needed to establish discrimination but different in terms of the payments and requirements.”

Davy continued, “This time the process is only open to living people who directly experienced discrimination, with one exception to those who formally were assigned a debt by a deceased borrower, who was discriminated against. This DFAP process is not for heirs and estates, as some of the prior lawsuits and settlement were.”

Federation staff are advising farmers to go to the DFAP website at:
http://www.22007apply.gov, to read and look at the program information, frequently asked questions, document checklist and the 40-page application itself.

Attorney Hank Sanders of Selma, who is working with the Federation on this DFAP process said the first time he saw the 40-page application,
“It was intimidating and a daunting experience; but after I read through it and started working with it, I determined it was a good way for farmers, with help from groups like the Federation, to tell their story and make their case for monetary assistance toward past discrimination.”

In this process, there is no minimum payment (like the $50,000 in the lawsuits). The maximum payment to one individual farmer will be $500,000.
The minimum payment is based on the total number of applications received, the severity of, and damages caused by the discrimination. Some preference for helping farmers, who are still working on the land, is implied but not officially stated.

In addition to the discussion and workshops on the DFAP -22007 Discrimination Farmers Assistance Program, representatives of USDA including Dr. Dewayne Goldman, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Equity, Zack Ducheneaux, FSA National Director and Scott Marlow, Assistant to the FSA Director, were present to speak to other programs of USDA. They explained the borrower’s relief, Section 22006, available to farmers with current FSA loans, who had financial difficulties in repayment, related to COVID, weather conditions and other problems.

There was a workshop on the heirs property programs, including the Heirs Property Relending Program which has allocated $5 million to the Federation, through Shared Capital, a mid-west CDFI, for loans to help clear titles and purchase the interests of heirs, no longer interested in owning property. This program is prepared to begin considering loans in coming weeks. Heirs must meet a series of requirements, available from the Federation, to be able to file an application.

There were also tours of the Federation’s forestry and agro-forestry demonstrations at the Rural Training and Research Center. The evening was completed with a fish fry and a tasting of shrimp and beef kabobs from two new co-ops from Texas, the Matagorda Bay Fishing Co-op, and the Agri-Unity Beef Producers Co-op.

On Thursday evening in Birmingham, the Federation held its 22nd annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Banquet. The award is named for a founding member of the Federation and long-time manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee of Alberta and Gee’s Bend, (Wilcox County) Alabama.

The Federation gave the award to Ms. Xernona Clayton, a 92-year-old veteran civil rights and communications personality from Atlanta. She did public relations work for Dr. King and SCLC, was an executive at Turner Broadcasting and involved in the civil rights and human rights movement in Atlanta and the southern states. Ms. Clayton praised the Federation for its work with farmers and other poor people in the region and said she was humbled in receiving the award.

For more information on the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF go to their website at: http://www.federation.coop or call 404/765-0991 or 205/652-9676.



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