|EAST POINT, Ga. – Last year, our government promised 17,000 Americans, 3,100 of whom were Black, emergency debt relief, to address the unique governmental interest in mitigating the disproportionate debt burden facing America’s farmers and ranchers of color resulting from long-standing, race-based discrimination in agricultural lending practices especially against Black farmers. No sooner had American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Section 1005 passed, before groups of White farmers challenged the Constitutionality of the provision. These legal challenges resulted in the indefinite delay in the implementation of the government’s narrowly tailored solution to the unfair burden of racial discrimination that not even a global pandemic could slow or halt.
On behalf of its membership of Black farmers, the Federation intervened as a party in the debt relief litigation, asking the Court to reinstate the implementation of Section 1005 to help the government keep yet one more promise to Black farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately, as passed by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) threatens to render this litigation moot thereby preventing us from ever knowing how the Court would interpret this critically necessary program.
Ultimately, if passed, the IRA will become heralded as an overwhelming victory in the fight for medical consumers and our environment. While these aspects of the law should be lauded, they unfortunately come with yet another broken promise to America’s Black farmers.
As passed by the Senate, the IRA repeals ARPA Section 1005, thereby Congressionally conceding defeat on one narrowly tailored solution to the government’s purported interest in reducing the economic harms of race-based discrimination in agricultural lending and pandemic relief. Instead, this promise has been repealed and replaced with two programs that again ask Black farmers to trust in promises that have heretofore remained untrustworthy.
As alternatives to the ARPA debt relief program, the IRA appropriates $3.1B for loan modifications for “distressed” direct and guaranteed borrowers “whose agricultural operations are at financial risk” and $2.2B for “discrimination financial assistance” to NGOS to provide financial assistance of up to $500K for “farmers, ranchers or forest landowners determined to have experienced discrimination prior to January 1, 2021.” Unfortunately, the Senate, does not establish priority in either program for the 17,000 farmers and ranchers who received letters from their government promising debt relief. Thus, despite being guaranteed that no adverse action would result from nonpayment of loans promised to be forgiven, these borrowers remain imminently vulnerable to foreclosure.