On November 19th, the Justice for Black Farmers Act was introduced to Congress by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The bill is aimed at addressing and correcting historic discrimination within the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal farm assistance and lending that has caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland and robbed Black farmers and their families of hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth.
"Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” said Senator Booker in a press release. “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory policies within the USDA and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century. The Justice for Black Farmers Act will work to correct this historic injustice by addressing and correcting USDA discrimination and taking bold steps to restore the land that has been lost in order to empower a new generation of Black farmers to succeed and thrive.”
In 1920 there were nearly 1 million Black farmers in the United States. Today, it is estimated that there are less than 50,000 remaining Black farmers. Over the past hundred years, Black agricultural landowners have lost 98 percent of their land, some 12 million acres. If passed, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will enact policies to end discrimination within the USDA, protect remaining Black farmers from losing their land, provide land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers and restore the land base that has been lost, and implement systemic reforms to help family farmers across the United States.
Senator Warren said, “For decades, racist policies have robbed Black farmers of the economic opportunity to thrive in our country's agricultural industry. I'm glad to cosponsor Senator Booker's bill, which goes a long way toward restoring and protecting property rights of Black farmers, rooting out discriminatory policies, and providing Black farmers with the necessary tools to succeed.”
“Black farmers and ranchers have been historically excluded in agricultural industries and inequities in federal aid have stripped them from their land. It is not only our responsibility to investigate this systemic discrimination, we must end and correct it so that the next generation of Black farmers can bloom,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The Justice for Black Farmers Act will ensure the Department of Agriculture puts an end to discriminatory practices that have harmed Black agricultural producers for more than a hundred years. I thank Senator Booker for his leadership on this issue and I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation to make farming more equitable and inclusive.”
According to Booker, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will:
- End Discrimination within USDA: The Act takes steps to once and for all end discrimination within USDA. The Act creates an independent civil rights oversight board to conduct reviews of any appeals of civil rights complaints filed against USDA, to investigate reports of discrimination within USDA, and to provide oversight of Farm Service Agency County Committees. In addition, the Act creates an Equity Commission whose responsibilities include developing recommendations to reform FSA County Committees. The Act also puts reforms in place within the USDA Office of Civil Rights, including placing a moratorium on foreclosures during the pendency of civil rights complaints.
- Protect Remaining Black Farmers from Land Loss: The Act increases the funding authorization for the USDA relending program created in the 2018 Farm Bill to resolve farmland ownership and succession, or “heirs property,” issues. The Act provides funding for pro bono assistance, including legal assistance, succession planning and support for development of farmer cooperatives, to Black farmers. The Act will also create and fund a new bank to provide financing and grants to Black farmer and rancher cooperative financial institutions, and will forgive USDA debt of Black farmers who filed claims in the Pigford litigation.