Justice for Black Farmers Act introduced in Congress

National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Rural Coalition and Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund applauded the introduction of the Justice for Black Farmers Act in the Senate Thursday, November 19, 2020 by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The landmark bill provides long-overdue measures to support Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged producers who have faced discrimination and disenfranchisement, often from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself. In a sweeping initiative to restore farmland to the Black community following centuries of land theft, the bill establishes a program of land grants of up to 160 acres to eligible individuals, along with training programs and apprenticeships. The bill also makes structural reforms within USDA, expands funding to a variety of agricultural programs, and protects contract livestock farmers from abuse by meatpacking companies.
Monica Rainge, Director of Land Retention and Advocacy of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund and NFFC Treasurer, said, “The Justice for Black Farmers Act would make real strides in correcting many of the wrongs that Black farming communities have faced for centuries. Growing the number of Black farmers and landowners through land grants, training, and credit will strengthen all of our communities.”
NFFC President and retired Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman said, “National Family Farm Coalition and our member organizations have worked for decades to address structural inequities and systemic racism that have, in many cases, made it impossible for Black farmers to maintain ownership of their land, or in the case of beginning farmers, to gain access to land. The wide-reaching measures of this new bill from Senators Booker and Warren will provide long-overdue equity and justice for Black farmers.”
Lorette Picciano, Executive Director of the Rural Coalition stated,”This is a strong proposal to redress the decades of historic discrimination and neglect by USDA agencies, commercial lenders and others against Black farmers. The Rural Coalition has been engaged in moving forward these issues on behalf of all people of color farmers and family farmers in general since 1985. We see passage of this legislation as an extension and intensification of work over the years to promote outreach, education, set-asides and other measures in Farm Bills to serve farmers who have faced racial discrimination at the hands of USDA.”
According to the 2017 Ag Census, 3.4 million U.S. farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,500, are Black, down from a peak of nearly one million in 1920. Black farmers own just one-half of one percent of U.S. farmland, and make an average of $40,000 annually. Following a brief period of post-Civil War Reconstruction and Black landownership, a white supremacist campaign of land grabs and terrorism towards Black farmers and landowners across the South drove many off of land and out of the region. In this context, the trend of corporations increasingly buying up U.S. farmland since the 2008 financial crisis, particularly in regions such as the Mississippi Delta, presents additional land access barriers for new and beginning farmers of color. As U.S. land consolidation continues, NFFC has been a vocal critic of corporate farmland ownership and long called for legislative efforts to keep land in the hands of family-scale producers.
NFFC board member Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, said, “This comprehensive legislation addresses many levels of obstacles faced by Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers. From introducing large-scale programs like land grants to Black farmers to meaningful reforms clarifying important heirs property provisions, the bill levels the playing field to diversify and strengthen the farming sector and our rural communities.”
The Justice for Black Farmers Act has five components:
• USDA civil rights reforms. Establishes an independent board to oversee civil rights at USDA and an equity commission to investigate USDA’s legacy of discrimination.
• Public land grants to Black farmers. Grants 20,000 160-acre plots to eligible individuals annually from 2021 to 2031. A Farm Conservation Corps will be established to train young people from socially disadvantaged groups in agricultural skills and apprentice with socially disadvantaged, beginning, and organic farmers and ranchers.
• Increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities. Provides $500 million per year to support agricultural study as well as research on regenerative agriculture and market opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
• Land retention protections and credit assistance. Establishes further safeguards to keep minority farmers on their land, and expands access to credit and a pandemic foreclosure moratorium.
• Reforms to USDA and the farm system. These include common-sense provisions to protect contract livestock growers from unfair practices by meatpacking companies; increased funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program; and expansion of conservation and rural energy programs to help farmers and ranchers adopt new practices and respond to climate change.
More detailed information on the legislation is available from Senator Cory Booker’s office and the organizations listed in the story.

Newswire :   Senators urge Trump Administration to halt deportation of Mauritanians

Senator Kamala Harris

(D-CA) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Representatives Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Joyce Beatty (D-OH) led a group of lawmakers in a bicameral letter calling on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cease the deportation of Black Mauritanian nationals, who face the threat of race-based discrimination, violence, or slavery if forced to return to Mauritania. “Most Mauritanians in the United States arrived here seeking refuge from government-led racial and ethnic persecution and extreme violence,” wrote the lawmakers. “For the following two decades our government declined to deport Mauritanians because of the dangerous and potentially life-threatening conditions they would face if they were returned to their country of origin.” There are approximately 3,000 Black Mauritanians in the United States, most of whom arrived in the 1990s after their government forcibly expelled them and stripped them of their citizenship on the basis of their race and ethnicity. So far in fiscal year 2018, the Trump administration has deported 79 Mauritanians, up from eight in FY 2017. The lawmakers continued, “Mauritanians deported from the United States face unacceptable threats of racial and ethnic discrimination and slavery…We ask DHS and the State Department to jointly respond within 60 days to the following questions to clarify U.S. policies and practices regarding deportations of Mauritanians.” In addition to Senator Harris and Representatives Thompson, Nadler, Lofgren, and Beatty, the letter was signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), John Lewis (D-GA), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Al Green (D-TX), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Judy Chu (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and David Cicilline (D-RI).

Newswire :  Center for Responsible Lending calls for firing of fair lending official who used N-Word

By Charlene Crowell ( TriceEdneyWire.com) – Recent and stunning disclosures of racially-offensive writings by a high-ranking official at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has unleashed an escalating barrage of criticisms, including calls for the official to be fired and more probing questions regarding the agency’s commitment to fair lending. Since a September 28 Washington Post article first reported how Eric Blankenstein, CFPB’s Policy Director for Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending, used a pen name in blogs dating as far back as 2004, a spate of fury has been unleashed. Disguising his authorship, Blankenstein claimed that the use of the N-word was not racist, and further alleged that most hate crimes were hoaxes. A subsequent New York Times article alleged that people who perpetuated the Obama birther conspiracy are not racist either, and noted that as late as 2016, Blankenstein’s personal Twitter account posted racially charged comments. Keep in mind that Blankenstein was hand-picked by CFPB head Mick Mulvaney. Patrice A. Ficklin, a CFPB career staff member and Director of its Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity reports to Blankenstein and is quoted in the Post article. Ficklin said, “And while he has been collegial, thoughtful and meticulous, I have had experiences that have raised concerns that are now quite alarming in light of the content of his blog posts — experiences that call into question Eric’s ability and intent to carry out his and his Acting Director’s repeated yet unsubstantiated commitment to a continued strong fair lending program under governing legal precedent.” By October 1, Anthony Reardon, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union, advised CFPB of its dissatisfaction with the Blankenstein blogs. “There should be zero tolerance for comments that Blankenstein has admitted authoring and nothing less than swift and decisive action is called for,” said Reardon. “That someone with a history of racially derogatory and offensive comments has a leadership position at CFPB reflects poorly on CFPB management and your commitment to fulfilling the mandate of the agency to ensure that discriminatory and predatory lending practices are stopped.” Two days later, on October 3, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) publicly called for Blankenstein to be fired. “Mr. Blankenstein must be removed from his post and this must be combined with a demonstrable commitment by CFPB head Mick Mulvaney to fair lending,” said Yana Miles, CRL’s Senior Legislative Counsel. “Thus far, the Mulvaney approach has been worse than inaction – it has been an appalling retreat from enforcing anti-discrimination laws…. The enduring legacy and present-day experience of financial discrimination is the key driver of the racial wealth gap. Vigorously addressing this is a legal and moral imperative.” A second civil rights organization agreed with CRL’s call for Blankenstein’s termination. “Eric Blankenstein’s racist and sexist remarks show that he is not fit to lead the CFPB Office of Fair Lending,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Our nation’s history of financial discrimination is the key factor in the growing racial wealth gap.” “Entrusting Blankenstein given his history of racially derogatory remarks will undermine progress for fair lending efforts to close the gap,” continued Gupta. “If the CFPB is serious about eradicating discrimination, it must immediately remove Blankenstein, and must ensure that it is led by a person with a demonstrated commitment to civil rights enforcement. His writings make clear that Mr. Blankenstein is not that person.” The same day, another pivotal development occurred. A letter signed by 13 U.S. Senators representing 11 states wrote Mulvaney, demanding answers to a series of questions no later than October 22. The questions span Mulvaney’s personal awareness of the writings, the guidelines and procedures used to fill the position, whether a Member of Congress, or an executive branch employee recommended his hiring, what action he intends to take as Acting Director and more. In part, the Senators’ letter states, “We are deeply concerned that you have placed a person with a history of racist writing at a senior position within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…Mr. Blankenstein was not hired through the competitive service process like most CFPB employers; he is one of your hand-selected political appointees. Further, you have specifically tasked him with overseeing the CFPB’s fair lending supervision and enforcement work at a time when you have decided to restructure the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity.” The letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington State), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jack Reed (D-RI) Mark Warner (D-VA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Even before the Blankenstein scandal, Mulvaney’s actions and inactions at the CFPB have brought a series of concerns by civil rights and consumer advocates alike. Particularly noteworthy among their stated concerns under Mulvaney include: CFPB has yet to issue any violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; The Bureau declared an intent to ignore the Disparate Impact standard, a long-standing legal test that holds the effects of discrimination, not the intent are legal violations; Personally praised the repeal of anti-discrimination auto lending guidance; Sided with payday lenders in their challenge of the Bureau’s payday rule promulgated under the previous director; Announced the Bureau’s fair lending office would be stripped of its supervisory and enforcement powers; and Relegated the development of regulation on fair lending for minority and women-owned businesses to a low-level concern. It took decades of vigilant struggle for civil rights, fair lending, and consumer protection to be codified in federal laws. It is time to remind the CFPB and all federal agencies that they have a duty to uphold the nation’s fair lending laws – regardless of personal beliefs. Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s Communications Deputy Director. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.