Justice for Black Farmers bill introduced in Senate

Six Democratic senators announced legislation on Monday to end discrimination at USDA and to expand Black-owned farmland by up to 32 million acres through land grants over 10 years. Sponsors include five members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which would handle the bill.

“The Justice for Black Farmers Act will address and correct USDA discrimination and take bold steps to forgive debt and restore the land that has been lost in order to empower a new generation of Black farmers to succeed and thrive,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who originally filed the bill last November. It died when Congress adjourned in December.

Under the legislation, an independent board would review appeals of civil rights complaints filed against the USDA, investigate complaints of discrimination within the department, and oversee the farmer-elected county committees that guide operations at local USDA offices. It also would increase funding for a USDA program to resolve the “heirs property” issue of land passed from one generation of a family to another without a clear title. A new Equitable Land Access Service would issue land grants of 160 acres apiece to up to 20,000 experienced Black farmers annually through 2030.

In 1920, there were nearly 926,000 Black farmers, compared with fewer than 50,000 today. The government agreed in the so-called Pigford settlements of 1999 and 2010 to compensate Black farmers who were harmed by discriminatory practices such as denial of USDA loans and slow handling of civil rights complaints.

Joining Booker as sponsors were Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York state, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. All but Warren are on the Agriculture Committee. Warren and Gillibrand were co-sponsors last year.

A section by section summary of the bill is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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