Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) reintroduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act, legislation that aims to address and correct historic discrimination within federal farm assistance and lending at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland and robbed Black farmers and their families of the hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth that land represented. Senator Booker first introduced the legislation in 2020.
In 1920, there were nearly 1 million Black farmers in the United States. Today, due in large part to this history of discrimination, it is estimated that there are less than 50,000 remaining Black farmers.
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 encourage 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.
"There is a direct connection between discriminatory USDA policies and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century," said Senator Booker. "Last year in the Inflation Reduction Act, we took a positive step by providing $2.2 billion for financial assistance to farmers that have suffered discrimination by USDA, but there is still a lot more work to be done. The Justice for Black Farmers Act seeks to correct persistent injustices and help restore the land that Black farmers have lost. I am proud to re-introduce this landmark legislation alongside my colleagues as we work to right these wrongs and empower a new generation of Black farmers."
"The Justice for Black Farmers Act will help put an end to discriminatory practices that have harmed Black farmers and ranchers for decades," said Senator Gillibrand. "Inequities in federal policies have historically stripped these producers of their land and denied them federal aid. It is our responsibility to empower the next generation of Black farmers and make farming more equitable."
"We have to acknowledge that the USDA has a history of institutionalized discrimination against Black farmers and farmers of color. That is the history we cannot look away from," said Senator Smith. "As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have worked hard to create equitable credit access for diverse farmers--including the Black, Hmong, Latino and Native American farmers in my state of Minnesota. This historic legislation will help create a level playing field that empowers more farmers to succeed. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get it passed."
"This legislation addresses decades of historic discrimination against Black farmers and ranchers," said Senator Blumenthal. "The USDA's harmful practices have barred thousands of families from critical assistance and lending opportunities -- leading to land loss and preventing farmers from making a meaningful living. By investing in future farmers, creating a new bank to administer grants, and investigating civil rights complaints, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will bring about critical reforms. The socially disadvantaged communities harmed by these antiquated policies deserve our support."
"Black farmers have faced a long history of injustice that has gone unaddressed for far too long," said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). "We must act immediately to ensure that Black farmers' civil-rights complaints are taken seriously, that they're protected from land loss, and that they have access to the federal relief they deserve."
"Farming is a tough job and it's only been made more difficult by historic discrimination that for too long has hampered farmers' ability to bring food to our tables," said Senator Reverend Warnock. "I'm proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Justice for Black Farmers Act so Georgia farmers can stay on their farms and keep operating at full force to feed our country and support our local economies."
Specifically, 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. 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.
Restore the Land Base Lost by Black Farmers: The Act creates a new Equitable Land Access Service within USDA to acquire farmland and provide land grants of up to 160 acres to existing and aspiring Black farmers. These land grants will allow hundreds of thousands of new Black farmers to return to the land in the next decade. To help ensure their success, these new Black farmers will be provided access to USDA operating loans and mortgages on favorable terms.
Create a Farm Conservation Corps: The Act creates a USDA program where young adults from socially disadvantaged communities will be provided with the academic, vocational and social skills necessary to pursue careers in farming and ranching. Participants in the program will be paid by USDA and will serve as on-farm apprentices at no cost to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, beginning farmers and ranchers, and organic farmers and ranchers with annual gross farm income of less than $250,000.00. Black participants who gain experience through this program will have priority for land grants.
Empower HBCUs and Advocates for Black farmers: The Act provides substantial resources to 1890s and to nonprofits who serve Black farmers so that they can provide pro bono assistance in identifying land for USDA to purchase and provide as land grants, help new Black farmers get up and running, provide farmer training, and provide other assistance including succession planning and legal assistance to Black farmers. The Act also provides new funding to HBCUs to expand their agriculture research and courses of study.
Assist All Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers: While Black farmers have suffered a unique history of discrimination, other socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have also been harmed by discrimination. The Act substantially increases funding for USDA technical assistance and for programs such as CSP and REAP, and gives priority for these programs, as well as increased access to capital, to all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Enact System Reforms to Help All Farmers and Ranchers: In order for existing Black farmers and the new Black farmers created by this bill to have a real chance to succeed and thrive, broader reforms to our broken food system must be enacted. The Justice for Black Farmers Act substantially reforms and strengthens the Packers and Stockyards Act in order to stop abusive practices by big multinational meatpacking companies and protect all family farmers and ranchers.