Supporting A Strong Farm Economy For All

March 25, 2021
In The News

In a recent episode of the popular YouTube show Louder With Crowder, host Steven Crowder dedicates a segment of his show to discussing the $5 billion allocated for black farmers in the American Rescue Act. Though in a self-proclaimed comedy show, the segment wasn’t funny; it was insensitive, ignorant, and in poor taste.

The segment begins with a news story describing the discrimination faced by farmers of color through government agricultural programs. Overheard in the background, one of Crowder’s co-hosts can be heard asking, “Do they got receipts on that?”

The short answer: yes.

The long answer involves some background on the 1999 class action suit Pigford v. Glickman, a case that alleged decades of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture against black farmers applying for farm loans and other government assistance.

Since the original Pigford settlement, more than $2 billion has been allocated as compensation for black farmers.

There has undoubtedly been discrimination at USDA in the past against black farmers and other socially disadvantaged groups. Sadly, I’m sure instances of discrimination remain today.

I did not vote for the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan for many reasons — chief among them was that the bill was used as a vehicle to move additional policy and spending that had nothing to do with COVID-19 relief. Moreover, the bill was drafted with hypotheticals, misinformation, and incomplete data. This boondoggle of a bill is the result of forcing partisan legislation through the budget reconciliation process, and it fails the very people my colleagues across the aisle are claiming it helps.

Paying off the loans of socially disadvantaged farmers may help in the short term, but it does very little to address the root cause of the issue. It does nothing to attack discrimination head-on, and it certainly doesn’t prevent racial exclusion for black farmers or any other socially disadvantaged group in the future.

For too long, far too many questions have gone unanswered. How did USDA leadership fail so spectacularly to allow for this discrimination for so many years? Why were the bad actors allowed to continue their comfortable government or appointed jobs when they so brazenly allowed discrimination to continue, even if they didn't directly engage in the discrimination itself? Is simply forgiving debt the best way to address this problem and provide a forward-thinking and equitable outcome?

The American Rescue Plan gives the USDA a blanket authority to handle the funds provided through the legislation. Surely, leaving an unelected bureaucracy with a decadeslong track record of racial discrimination to its own devices cannot be the best way to right wrongs.

We cannot forget the progress Congress has already made by authorizing programs and initiatives through previous farm bills to assist black and other socially disadvantaged farmers. From credit to conservation, there have been a number of provisions that seek to address inequities.

For example, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency makes and guarantees loans to eligible socially disadvantaged farmers to buy and operate family-sized farms and ranches. When it comes to conservation and forestry, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has made a concerted effort to provide resources for socially disadvantaged and historically underserved producers.

Every year, NRCS targets 5% of its Environmental Quality Incentives Program for socially disadvantaged farmers. However, over the last decade, NRCS has exceeded expectations. with 33% of EQIP funding going to historically underserved producers and beginning farmers.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the 2018 Farm Bill investments in historically black 1890 land-grant universities, including $80 million in scholarships for historically black colleges and universities students to pursue agricultural education.

While much work remains, we should look to this previous progress as a blueprint in continued discussions. We must work together as a farm team (farmers, ranchers, producers, legislators, stakeholders, and activists alike) to reduce barriers that are preventing black and other socially disadvantaged farmers from participating fully in a robust farm economy. We must support a strong farm economy that lifts up all.

This week, the House Agriculture Committee will be hosting a hearing to better understand the discrimination experienced by black farmers. This is our time to listen. Witnesses will be providing Congress with perspectives on how to move forward, and their insight will play an integral role in ensuring our agriculture policy does not discriminate but that ensures farms and farmers of all races, sizes, and commodities can thrive. I look forward to bringing black farmers to the table to lead us in this overdue conversation, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to identify America’s best path forward.

Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson represents Pennsylvania's 15th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is the Republican leader of the House Agriculture Committee.