Lawmakers Threaten To Derail Proposal To Eliminate Black Farmers’ Debt

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, February 10, 2021

WASHINGTON – Two members of the House Agriculture Committee are trying to derail a provision in the budget reconciliation bill that would eliminate all federal farm debt held by Black farmers.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa) today filed amendments to the bill that would dramatically limit the scope of debt forgiveness for Black farmers and other farmers of color. The debt forgiveness provision is included in the budget reconciliation bill that would provide $1.9 billion in Covid-19 relief. 

Hartzler’s amendment would narrow the window of debt relief to the amount incurred during the months of the pandemic only, and Reenstra’s proposal would reduce the amount of debt forgiveness.

Hartzler and her family have received more than $1.2 million in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2020 and nearly $230,000 in bailout payments as a result of ex-President Trump’s disastrous trade war with China.

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, and Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, condemned the proposed amendments.

Boyd said:

The National Black Farmers Association strongly opposes the Feenstra and Hartzler amendments to be voted upon today by the House Agriculture Committee.

The budget reconciliation bill would eliminate all farm program debt held by Black, Native American and other socially disadvantaged farmers. 

Rep. Randy Feenstra has filed an amendment to reduce the amount of debt forgiveness from 120 percent of debt (included by committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., to account for the tax consequences of debt relief) to 100 percent. What many may fail to realize is that cancellation of debt can create other problems and issues. Forgiveness of a debt can be a tax event for the farmers, leaving them to bear the burden of the tax liability. 

In addition, Rep. Vicky Hartzler has filed an amendment to dramatically limit the scope of this debt forgiveness to debt incurred during Covid-19. Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers were already struggling as a result of decades of unfair lending and discrimination practices at the Department of Agriculture.   

In 2018, former President Trump announced his $12 billion bailout for farmers to offset the financial damage suffered by thousands of farmers like me by his trade war. He touted this subsidy as a solution to the devastating losses we endured and pledged that the subsidy would be available to farmers swiftly and in two installments. Instead, President Trump’s trade policies were a disaster for soybean farmers like me. 

Because Market Facilitation Payments, or MFP, were tied to production, the largest and most successful producers collected the lion’s share of the funding. While some large farmers received nearly $1 million for crops harvested in 2018, most family farmers like me received less than $5,000. 

According to the Environmental Working Group, the top 10 percent of MFP recipients received 54 percent of all MFP payments. Rather than adopt strict payment and income limits, as the Trump administration proposed for farm subsidies in their FY 2019 and FY 2020 budget requests, the administration instead chose to apply the same broken rules that have funneled farm subsidies to the biggest farms for decades.

Those rules were especially unfair to African American, Latino and Asian American farmers, who tend to have smaller operations than white farmers – and are less likely to be eligible for government farm supports at all. Historically, many black farmers and other small-scale farmers receive payments late, and for some, never. 

We have no backup support in difficulties such as this time to resolve debt that has been incurred prior to Covid-19 and continues to disproportionately force farmers out of business. As Black farmers, we have a long history of being shut out of help from the USDA. 

Cook said:

Both of these amendments are blatant attempts to further punish Black farmers and other farmers of color and should be soundly defeated by the committee. The days of singling out Black farmers by severely limiting their ability to earn a living, pay their bills and take care of their families must end.

Nearly all of the federal taxpayer-funded subsidies have flowed into the bank accounts of millionaires like Rep. Hartzler and other wealthy, white farmers. Meanwhile, the government’s long and sordid history of systemic racism toward Black farmers has unfairly penalized them and their families, resulting in lost land, foreclosures and financial ruin.

Voting down these amendments would be a step in the right direction to begin the much-needed effort to stamp out the racist policies that have kept Black farmers from realizing the same support white farmers have enjoyed for decades.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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