Newswire : Senate passes Jones amendment to fund Heirs’ Property Program

Sen. Doug Jones speaking on floor of the Senate

WASHINGTON – By a vote of 91-1, the Senate passed an amendment on Monday, October 29, 2019, introduced by Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) to help heirs’ property landowners secure a clear title for their land. The amendment to the FY2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill includes $5 million to fund a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program Senator Jones was able to include in the 2018 Farm Bill. His provision authorized the Farm Service Agency to make loans that will help families resolve heir’s property ownership and succession issues.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Rural Coalition worked on helping to frame the language for the heirs property sections of the 2018 Farm Bill which were introduced in a bi-partisan effort by Jones and Senator Tim Scott (R – SC).
Senator Jones took to the Senate floor immediately before the vote to encourage his colleagues to support the amendment. Copies of his statement are available on his werbsite.
Heirs’ property is land that has been informally passed down within families, often for several generations when the original owner fails to make a will. This can lead to costly legal complications and prevent landowners from qualifying for federal assistance. Heirs’ property is predominantly owned by African American farmers and producers and an estimated 60-percent of minority-owned land is projected to be heirs’ property.
Challenges associated with heirs’ property status are the leading cause of involuntary land loss among African Americans. Landowners of heirs’ property also cannot qualify for USDA loans necessary for farming, receive disaster relief funding, or use their land as collateral in private lending. More background on heirs’ property and the amendment are on the Senator’s website
Over the past year, Senator Jones has led a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to help these landowners gain fair access to federal programs and to make it easier to resolve legal issues that result from their heirs’ property status. In addition to the re-lending provision, Senator Jones also secured a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill to help heirs’ property owners obtain a USDA farm number, which is key to accessing assistance from the agency’s programs.
More information on Heirs Property and an upcoming national confertence is also available at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives website at www.federation.coop.

Newswire : Structural Racism eliminated Black Farmers

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent @StacyBrownMedia

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) provides insight on how decades of structural racism within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has led to the virtual elimination of black farmers.
A century ago, roughly 14 percent of farmers were black. By 2012, that number had shrunk to 1.58 percent, according to the report, “Progressive Governance Can Turn the Tide for Black Farmers,” by Abril Castro and Zoe Willingham.
The study examined the ways in which discriminatory policies by the U.S. government, and especially the USDA, throughout the 20th century and up to the Trump era have led to the elimination of black farmers.
The authors said they found that black farmers have had less access to credit and less access to extension programs than their white counterparts, preventing black farmers from modernizing and scaling up their farms as white farmers have done.
The loss of black farmland has had a profound impact on rural black communities, which today suffer from severe economic challenges, among them a poverty rate twice that of rural white communities.
“This report illustrates the importance of understanding American history and the impact of systematic racism in our agricultural system,” Danyelle Solomon, vice president of Race and Ethnicity Policy at CAP, said in a news release.
The report gives several policy recommendations for protecting the livelihoods of black farmers:
· Protecting inherited family farms
· Expanding research and technical assistance for farmers of color
· Regular oversight and audits of the USDA by the Government Accountability Office
· Expanding access to land for black farmers
“As the report notes, black farmers were systematically removed from the farming industry through government policy and practices,” Solomon said.
Between 1920 and 2007, black farmers lost 80 percent of their land, according to the report.
“Moving forward, policymakers must ensure that agricultural policy includes targeted and intentional policies that correct these harms by expanding access to land and technical resources for black farmers,” Solomon said.