Banks Threaten “Less Access to Credit” In Response to Federal Debt Relief for Black Farmers

John Boyd Jr., President, National Black Farmers Association    Screengrab: Washington Post via YouTube

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Black farmers have been hit the hardest by industry consolidation, predatory loan terms, and high foreclosure rates. Now, an effort by the Biden administration to provide $4 billion in debt relief for minority farmers is being met with staunch opposition from banks, who don’t want the financial support to Black farmers to cut into their profits on the loans. The measure, which was part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Relief Plan, aims to make amends between the Department of Agriculture and farmers of color after decades of discrimination. Some white farmers are also fighting the program claiming reverse discrimination, and advocates say this is just one more example of big companies using their power to harm marginalized communities.

Why This Matters: America’s farmland is rapidly disappearing, not because of urban sprawl, but because of eroding topsoil and devastated land. Fertile, carbon-rich topsoil has vanished in one-third of the Midwest.  

  • Moreover, since 1920, the number of Black-owned farms has declined from one million to under 40,000.
  • Both the nation’s farms and its marginalized communities are among the first to feel the impacts of climate change.

Sustaining our food supply chains and protecting BIPOC communities go hand in hand. The Biden administration’s debt relief programs are a sign that the federal government recognizes that truth, but the banks aren’t willing to do the same since it impacts their bottom lines.

Cultivating a Better Relationship

“Look at the two groups: You have the Black men and women who have gone through racism and discrimination and have lost their land and their livelihood,” said Bill Bridgeforth, a farmer in Alabama who is on the board of the National Black Growers Council. “And then you have the American Bankers Association, which represents the wealthiest folks in the land, and they’re whining about the money they could potentially lose.” The criticism comes in response to a letter written by a coalition of banks to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The ominous letter threatens “less access to credit for those seeking USDA guaranteed loans in the future, including USDA farmers/ranchers,” if the USDA fails to compensate the banks for loss of interest payments incurred by paying the debts early. The banks also claimed that the losses would “undoubtedly reduce the bank’s ability to retain employees.”

Another obstacle comes in the form of white farmers and Trump allies, who sued the USDA, citing that reparations for decades of systemic anti-Black discrimination were, in actuality, discriminating against white farmers. Black farmers and advocates aren’t buying it, and neither is the USDA. “I think I have to take you back 20, 30 years, when we know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture,” said Vilsack, assuring the public that the relief plan will continue. “So, the American Rescue Plan’s effort is to begin addressing the cumulative effect of that discrimination in terms of socially disadvantaged producers.” Vilsack has the support of many members of Congress, and the banks have not indicated that they will take legal action. But John Boyd Jr., the National Black Farmers Association president, says that Black farmers can’t afford more delays, “it’s planting season, and Black farmers and farmers of color really could use this relief.”

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