White House promotes billions for Black farmers who say they still have grievances

As the White House works to support Black farmers through billions of dollars in new funding provided by the Biden-Harris administration, farmers historically harmed by the federal government have called for greater action and transparency.

In recent months, the administration has been working to get the word out to Black farmers about a billion-dollar federal program that could provide them much-needed relief as they continue to lose land and face racial barriers. 

The $2.2 billion Discrimination Financial Assistance Program provides financial assistance for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who experienced discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the federal agency’s farm lending before 2021. The program, announced on July 7, 2023, could provide up to $500,000 in compensation to farmers. The deadline for applications is Jan. 13.

“This is one of many investments designed to make sure that, number one, we understand our history of systemic discrimination against Black farmers,” said Tom Perez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. 

He told theGrio, “We have to address that, and that’s exactly what this program is designed to do.”

Perez, a senior adviser, and assistant to President Joe Biden, recently traveled to Maine to participate in a panel with the state’s first Black speaker of the House of Representatives, Rachel Talbot Ross, to discuss the efforts the Biden-Harris administration has made to right past wrongs against Black farmers.

While promoting the discrimination assistance program, Perez also highlighted nearly $600,000 in grants funded through USDA and the American Rescue Plan for Black, Afro-Indigenous, and other “limited resource producers” in Maine to support them in owning and operating agriculture enterprises. 

“A big part of what we’re trying to do is expand the pool. One of [Black farmers’] biggest barriers to entry…is getting that capital,” explained Perez. 

“Say you want to buy a three-acre farm [and] you don’t have that money in the bank. You have the skill. You’ve got the work ethic. You’ve got all it takes, but you need that help just getting your foot in the door,” continued the former chair of the Democratic National Committee.  

Tom Perez speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention at the Wisconsin Center on Aug. 20, 2020, in Milwaukee. (Photo by Tannen Maury-Pool/Getty Images)

“That’s the beauty of these grants. It’s helping grow the business,” he added.

Similarly, other administration officials like U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Stephen Benjamin, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, have crisscrossed the country to promote the available funding streams for Black farmers. 

Despite the administration’s efforts, some Black farmers remain displeased with how the federal government is addressing the historic racial discrimination against them. 

In 1999, the USDA settled a racial discrimination class action case (Pigford v. Glickman) brought by Black farmers after successfully showing that they had been denied farm subsidies and loans that had been provided to white farmers. However, most of those farmers never received payments. Over the next two decades, Black farmers lost land by the thousands.

According to a 2021 report from McKinsey and Company, only 1.4 % of farmers identify as Black or mixed race compared to 14% 100 years ago.

Advocates point out that the available funding streams for farmers are not exclusive to Black farmers nor based on race. Therefore, they have to compete with a wider pool of applicants to benefit from any relief the administration provides.  

“It’s for any farmer who feels that they’ve been discriminated [against],” said John Boyd, activist and founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. “[It can be] for sexual orientation, it can be a white farmer…anybody can take part in the process.”

The USDA launched the program after Congress repealed a similar $4 billion program designed for Black, Native American, Hispanic and Asian farmers. 

Following a lawsuit claiming the program was discriminatory against white farmers, the Biden-Harris administration and Democrats in Congress tailored a new program that excluded the mention of race. 

Working around the law, the administration partnered with land-grant institutions, state and local officials, and community leaders to spread the word to Black farmers and ensure those most harmed are best positioned to benefit from federal resources. 

Boyd and others joined a class-action lawsuit against the administration over the revamped program excluding race, claiming the government breached its contract with Black farmers.  A federal judge dismissed the case in June 2023; however, the Black farmers have since filed an appeal. 

Boyd told theGrio that the White House should have kept the initial program in place and “fought for it” rather than repeal it. 

“How come every time we get something, everybody abandons Black people?” Boyd asked rhetorically.  

The advocate described the administration’s repeal of the initial program as too hasty and scoffed at the idea that white farmers would essentially accuse the administration of reverse racism. 

Farmer John Boyd Jr. poses for a portrait on May 27, 2021, during a break from bailing hay at his farm in Boydton, Va., (Photo by Steve Helber, AP)

“White farmers have received all of the debt relief in this country,” said Boyd. “The whole 30 years I’ve been asking for debt relief, they’ve been getting it, and they’ve been getting [it] with ease.”

Boyd and his tens of thousands of National Black Farmers Association members are asking that a COVID-19 pandemic-era moratorium for guaranteed loans, direct loans, and other agricultural lending be reinstated to avoid further land foreclosures for Black farmers.

Boyd is also demanding a meeting with Biden, which he claimed the president agreed to. The activist said he reached out to the Office of Public Engagement more than once, including direct outreach to Benjamin, the office’s director and a senior advisor to Biden.

“I’ve reached out to him and just about everybody there, but there has been no meeting,” he said. 

Despite his grievances, Boyd, like the White House and USDA, has been working to spread the word about the available funding through the administration’s new discrimination assistance program. 

“We had about 60 stops around the country to tell Black farmers about it and how to apply,” he shared. “We have to wait and see who actually received compensation out of that.”

Boyd, like some Black voters, said he and some Black farmers are “not feeling that we’re getting what we need from this administration.” 

“I openly supported Biden [in 2020],” said Boyd, who noted that the National Black Farmers Association was “one of the first national Black groups to support him.”

“You have to help your base. That’s something that Republicans are great at and Democrats are poor at.”

However, as the election year approaches, Boyd also made it clear what he believes is at stake for Black farmers if President Biden’s likely Republican opponent in the 2024 election, former President Donald Trump, is elected in November. 

“It means [we] wouldn’t get anything,” he said.

For Boyd, his crusade for Black farmers is about leaving behind for future generations. 

“I’m thinking about now what I’m going to do to leave my farm to my children,” he said. “I want to leave the issue of Black farmers better than it was 41 years ago when I first started working on this issue.”

He added, “Right now, I ain’t feeling too good about that.” 

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Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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The Biden-Harris administration has allocated billions of dollars in new funding to support Black farmers who have historically been harmed by the federal government. The $2.2 billion Discrimination Financial Assistance Program aims to provide financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who experienced discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, some Black farmers remain displeased with the government’s efforts, claiming that the available funding streams are not exclusive to Black farmers and are based on race. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the administration for repealing the initial program designed for Black, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian farmers. Despite these challenges, advocacy groups and the administration continue to work to spread the word about the available funding for Black farmers. Additionally, farmer John Boyd Jr. is advocating for a COVID-19 pandemic-era moratorium to be reinstated to avoid further land foreclosures for Black farmers. Through these efforts, the goal is to address the history of systemic discrimination against Black farmers and ensure a better future for generations to come.

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