WASHINGTON D.C. — U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, introduced the Farm Subsidy Transparency Act of 2021, new legislation that would lift the veil of secrecy regarding the race and gender of farm subsidy recipients and help ensure an end to decades of discrimination against Black farmers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The Farm Subsidy Transparency Act of 2021 (H.R. 3794) would require USDA to track and publicly disclose the race and gender of all individuals who receive farm assistance through USDA, as well as the amount of assistance received. This includes assistance through farm subsidies, farm loans, crop insurance, and ad hoc disaster assistance, including through the Coronavirus Food Assistance program, as well as assistance through conservation and forestry programs. Importantly, the bill would also require USDA to disclose the race and gender of individuals who were rejected when seeking USDA assistance.
While historic debt relief and support for Black farmers was included in the American Rescue Plan, our ability to assess the success of those investments — and see whether promised reforms are actually working — depends on our ability to track the farm benefits issued by USDA by race and gender.
Largely as a result of differential treatment and discrimination against Black farmers by USDA, the number of Black farmers nationwide has fallen dramatically, from more than 900,000 in 1920 to less than 50,000 today. Furthermore, discrimination continues to be reflected in current USDA programs. At a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing on the state of Black farmers in the U.S., John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association, testified that commodity subsidies and ad hoc disaster payments still flow overwhelmingly to white farmers. While an eligible Black farmer receives an average of $7,755 in commodity subsidies, an eligible white farmer receives $17,206 on average.
Ninety-nine percent of the Market Facilitation Payments made to offset the effects of President Trump’s trade war went to white farmers, and ninety-seven percent of Coronavirus Food Assistance Payments made to address the COVID-19 pandemic went to white farmers. Disparities in the crop insurance program — which require a farmer-paid premium many Black farmers cannot afford — may be even greater, but it is impossible to know without information about the race of individuals receiving crop insurance subsidies.
“Due to decades of discriminatory federal policies within the USDA, Black farmers have been consistently denied access to farm assistance and lending,” said Senator Booker. “This has caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland and robbed their families of the opportunity to build and pass on the intergenerational wealth that the land represented. Although farmers of color received assistance in the American Rescue Plan, the fight for racial equity in agriculture is far from over, and we must ensure adequate transparency and fairness in USDA programs going forward.”
“It is critically important that we bring any remaining discriminatory lending behavior at USDA to a screeching halt,” said Rep. Rush. “In order to do so, we need to shine a bright light on USDA’s lending practices so that we can clearly see, understand, and address existing inequities. This bill is a timely and necessary response to decades of discrimination against Black farmers at USDA, which was a major factor in the decline in the number of Black farmers from nearly one million a century ago, to less than 50,000 today.
Rush continued, “I was born on a farm, and some of my earliest memories are from my grandfather’s farm in Southwest Georgia — this legislation is highly personal for me. Requiring transparency from USDA is a critical step towards reversing the agency’s dark legacy of racism and ensuring Black farmers get the support they need and are certainly owed.”
“In my opening testimony before the House Agriculture Committee, I spoke in support of full transparency within USDA programs. I have been advocating for such transparency for over three decades, after personally being denied loans and, in one instance, seeing a USDA officer tear my application up and toss it in the trash,” said John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association. “Closely tracking and providing full transparency with regard to race, gender, and size of farm operation is the only way to determine whether USDA programs are serving all farmers equally. There is ample evidence of longstanding discrimination against Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers at the USDA. H.R. 3794 signals a start to holding USDA accountable and to ensuring fairness and equity in farm loans, subsidies, and all USDA programs. Congressman Bobby Rush and I discussed these issues during our first meeting in 1992, and I commend him for his continued advocacy and for introducing this very important bill.”
“Until the public has access to the data, Congress cannot be sure that long overdue reforms are working,” said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “Given USDA’s long, well-documented history of discrimination, Rep. Rush and Sen. Booker are right to insist upon a public accounting of USDA spending by race and gender.”
The full text of the Farm Subsidy Transparency Act is HERE.
Earlier this year, Senator Booker introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). This landmark legislation 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 the hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth that land represented.
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