Organizations deplore Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) stopping relief for Black, Indigenous and People of Color Farmers and Ranchers

By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

On Thursday afternoon, June 10, 2021, Federal District Judge William C. Griesbach in the Eastern District of Wisconsin (Green Bay) issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from implementing Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), to assist BIPOC farmers in paying off their loans from USDA and Farm Credit Service agencies. Judge Greisbach made his ruling in a lawsuit, Faust vs. Vilsack, brought by white farmers, who claim this coronavirus relief targeted to BIPOC farmers is a violation of their Constitutional rights. In response to this TRO, which temporarily blocks Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack from actually spending Federal resources to forgive the loan balances of BIPOC farmers, several major organizations representing these farmers including the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Intertribal Agriculture Council, National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Association, Rural Coalition and twenty more submitted a press statement deploring the actions of this Trump appointed Federal judge.The statement says,” We, the undersigned, are organizations whose membership and service constituency is composed of Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and Asian, and Pacific Islander family farmers. With our allied farm and environmental organizational signatories, we jointly deplore the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from implementing Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act, to assist BIPOC farmers in paying off their Farm Service Agency direct or guaranteed loans. The underlying case, and related cases, reflect a flagrant attempt to overturn an act of Congress and the over 30 years of history of a definition that acknowledges and enables USDA to meet the urgent and particular needs of socially disadvantaged producers. During this pandemic, our producers have been unable to access the level of support and service provided to other groups of farmers and ranchers and will be further harmed by this relief being delayed. We see these lawsuits as undemocratic actions designed only to frustrate and defeat the justice long denied to BIPOC farmers and ranchers and their communities. Many of the undersigned have worked for decades to assist tens of thousands of producers who have endured decades of disparate and discriminatory treatment by the USDA with huge barriers to relief–situations that continue today. This includes establishing a definition and provisions providing targeted USDA program resources in credit, conservation, marketing, cooperative development and other services for these socially disadvantaged farmer applicants–all which have been included, without legal challenge, in Farm Bills over the past 30 plus years.  Congress took into account this sad and sordid history when it consciously added Sections 1005 and 1006 of the American Rescue Plan. These sections targeted assistance to help BIPOC farmers to recover from more than a year of calamitous and disruptive conditions in producing and marketing of agricultural products. If Congress is denied the remedy of lifting from the bottom and targeting the problems of those most affected by the current disease pandemic and the longer-term pandemic of racism and disparate treatment of BIPOC people, they will never be able to meaningful address the underlying problems holding America back from realizing its potential for “liberty and justice for all”.  No serious observer of USDA’s role in American agriculture can doubt that the Department has engaged in decades of intentional, and systematic, discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The results have been catastrophic and have completely reshaped farming by eliminating a wide swath of farmers. If ever there was a constitutional basis for taking race into account when making policy this is it.  In its decision the Court appears oblivious to this history, and hostile to efforts to achieve true racial justice.   We urge and support USDA to continue its vigorous defense of this critical relief and to assure the TRO does not prevent USDA from continuing to implement the eligibility and application process for this loan payment assistance, pending a favorable decision against a permanent injunction on this critically needed assistance for BIPOC farmers.   Our organizations further pledge to work to assure the intent of Congress is fulfilled and the rights of our producers are not extinguished.   We urge all other farmers and people of good will to educate themselves about this basic, fundamental, and continuing struggle for justice and equity by BIPOC farmers and their communities.”  Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation, pointed out that “ The TRO does not prevent USDA from continuing to contact BIPOC farmers to inform them of this program. USDA is in the process of sending out thousands of letters to BIPOC farmers to inform them of their outstanding loan balances and the process for getting their loan balances forgiven. We urge farmers to continue to respond to these letters and keep the process moving forward, so when the TRO or a more permanent injunction is lifted, USDA will be ready to implement the program and make the actual payments to pay off the loans and give farmers a payment to cover the Federal income taxes on these benefits.” White farmers, assisted by right-wing think tanks and legal groups have also filed lawsuits in Fort Worth, Texas and Jacksonville, Florida against USDA’s implementation of this assistance in the American Rescue Plan Act. The Greene County Democrat will be following these cases closely to report to our readers on these continuing developments. For more information, contact Federation of Southern Cooperatives at info@federation.coop or http://www.federation.coop or call 404-765-0991

Newswire: Nearly 100 percent of Trump funds designed to help farmers went to white farmers

By Paola Rosa-Aquino

Black Farmer

President Trump has made a big deal out of his admiration for farmers, calling them “some of the most incredible people in our country,” and “patriots.” But, based on newly acquired data on federal subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, his administration may not have been thinking of all farmers — mostly just the rich, white ones.
According to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by New Food Economy, the Trump administration funneled 99.5 percent of funds from its approximately year-old Market Facilitation Program, the largest current source of federal farm subsidies, to white farm operators.
Trump announced the MFP last summer as a means of softening the blow of the ongoing trade war with China, allocating $12 billion in direct payments to growers. As of May 15 of this year, the USDA had disbursed more than $8.5 billion from program to farm operations, primarily to soy, corn, wheat, cotton, and sorghum growers, Reuters reports.
According to a Department of Agriculture census, there were around 45,000 black farmers in the U.S. in 2017; compare that to nearly 1 million black farmers in 1910. Even though most farmers today are white (3.2 million, or 95 percent of farmers), Black farms tend to be smaller and generate less income compared to white farms.
It’s not yet clear if farmers of color applied to the program at the same rate as their white counterparts, but the distribution of funds still reveals disparities between white and black farmers in certain regions. In Mississippi, for instance, where 38 percent of the state’s population is black, about 14 percent of farms have a black principal operator, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture; however, only 1.4 percent of the $200 million in MFP funds distributed to farmers in the Magnolia state went to black operators.
The funding disparities didn’t just have to do with race: According to a new reportreleased on Tuesday by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, the vast majority of MFP funds went to the wealthiest 10 percent of recipients — the country’s biggest and most successful farmers.
“It seems as though many have turned a deaf ear to America’s small farmers and black farmers alike,” said John Boyd, founder and president of the Black Farmers Association, when he testified before the House Committee on Financial Services earlier this month.
“Anytime the government gets involved, when they say it’s going to be a speedy payment to farmers, it’s always last for African American farmers, it’s always last for Latino farmers, for small-scale farmers, and for women farmers,” he said.
The USDA did not respond to Grist’s request for comment.
For the many U.S. farmers whose crops’ primary market is China, having access to federal subsidies to help them deal with the country’s trade wars is a make-or-break benefit. Growers already deal with a plethora of issues, such as falling farm income and commodity prices, rising debt and floods that disrupt crop growth. And suffice to say, it’s not just white farmers who are suffering.
The USDA has a long history of discrimination against farmers of color. A 1994 report commissioned by the department itself said “minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.
“For many years, the USDA systematically favored white farmers by denying or delaying loans to Black farmers,” wrote Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, in the organization’s latest report.
And as to the latest on the MFP: Last week, President Trump unveiled plans to greenlight $16 billion as part of the second year of the program. About $14.5 billion of those funds will be in the form of direct payments to growers.