Commissioner

Commissioner Nikki Fried Hosts Zoom Discussion on Black Farmers Debt Relief

Dan Economy, Florida

Commissioner

(Tallahassee, Fla./June 11, 2021) — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried hosted a Zoom conversation with Black elected, agricultural, and financial leaders to discuss the history of systemic discrimination in farm lending. In the past century, Black participation in farming has decreased 85 percent in Florida, while 90 percent of Black-owned farmland has been lost across the nation. Under the Biden Administration, the USDA has acknowledged this historic racism, and recently announced $4 billion in American Rescue Plan debt relief for socially disadvantaged agriculture producers authorized by Congress.

Commissioner Fried was joined by State Senator Shevrin Jones (SD-35), State Representative Kevin Chambliss (HD-117), and Florida A&M University Federal Credit Union President and CEO Sheilah Montgomery.

“It has been nearly impossible for farmers of color to acquire land, access funding, and get farms off the ground,” said Commissioner Fried. “I appreciate everyone coming together to share their incredible stories of rising above systemic oppression, becoming successful, and working towards making changes that benefit everyone. We should absolutely embrace this— the American dream is based on opportunity and justice for all, and the America Rescue Plan is about making that real with help that is transformational and long overdue.”

“Unfortunately, there has been opposition to this clearly needed, morally-just relief. But we must and will not be deterred from doing what is right, and I look forward to working together with federal, state, local, and community partners on solutions,” further noted Fried in response to yesterday’s court ruling temporarily halting the USDA’s relief payments.

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“There are two different realities in which we are living in—it’s the epitome of the old saying: if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu, and Black farmers are on the menu,” said Senator Jones.  “We can’t pass the buck on doing what’s right for people. Someone has to take ownership to make sure that everyone has the access that’s needed to be a part of this American dream that so many people speak of.”

“Thank you Commissioner Fried for your leadership on this and for allowing me to be part of this. We are headed in the right direction because of this conversation,” said Representative Chambliss. “This is a very important step on the path for justice as we take the necessary steps to create a more fair and just America. Let’s have that conversation and then let’s create some good public policy based on the results. I’m excited about the future of Black farmers, not only in Florida but in the United States.”

“At FAMU Credit Union, we pride ourselves on being a community resource— one that gives back to communities of color because of not being able to have access to capital,” said President Montgomery. “This relief is not a giveaway, it’s a chance to be on equal ground. We advocate for opportunities for equity and inclusion, and we’d like to be a part of that conversation.”

The video can be viewed and downloaded here

Socially Disadvantaged: Under Section 2501 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990 (FACT Act), also known as the 1990 Farm Bill, P.L. 101-624, a socially disadvantaged group is defined as a farmer or rancher who is a member of one or more of the following groups whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities, 7 U.S.C. § 2279(e). Groups include, but are not limited to: Black/African American, American Indian or Alaskan native, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian American or Pacific Islander; gender is not a criteria in and of itself, but women are included in these categories.

Debt Relief: Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes provisions for USDA to pay up to 120 percent of loan balances, as of January 1, 2021, to any socially disadvantaged producer who has a qualifying loan with the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The 120 percent payment represents the full cost of the loan to include 100 percent toward loan balances as of January 1, 2021; the 20 percent portion is available for tax liabilities and other fees associated with payment of the debt. Any payments by borrowers made since January 1 will be reimbursed in full. Eligible Direct Loan borrowers will begin receiving debt relief letters from FSA in the mail on a rolling basis, beginning the week of May 24. Information for Guaranteed Loan borrowers will be available within 120 days. More information may be found at Farmers.gov/AmericanRescuePlan.

For additional assistance, the USDA Call Center is available at 877-508-8364. Para obtener asistencia adicional, el Centro de llamadas del USDA está disponible en el 877-508-8364.