Lester Bonner, a tobacco farmer from Virginia, opened his mailbox one morning last June and found the U.S. Received a letter from the Department of Agriculture. The five-page message said the balance on a $50,000 federal loan would soon be cleared to help them buy their farm.

“It was going to be the biggest burden of my life to leave,” Bonner, 75, told CBS Moneywatch. “That’s what’s setting me back this whole time.”

It’s been more than a year since Bonner, who is black, received that letter from the USDA, but his loan still hasn’t been forgiven. Now she believes it will never fade away.

According to a national group of Black farmers, thousands of others in Bonner’s shoes are also questioning whether they will ever get any debt relief. That’s because a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act – which President Biden signed into law on Tuesday – has significantly reduced the amount of money allocated for debt relief to farmers. The law also removed words that specifically designed money for black farmers to wipe out their USDA debt.

The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, which passed last year alongside the US rescue plan, called for $4 billion in loan forgiveness to farmers of color. In addition to providing aid to black growers who have struggled during the pandemic, the emergency funding marks the first step in fixing decades of discrimination that some farmers say they have faced at the hands of the USDA.

Yet the loan-waiver program has been removed from the inflation measure before any dollar reaches the boner-like farmers.

The Revised Inflation Reduction Act provides $3.1 billion to “distressed borrowers” and another $2.2 billion to farmers who have “experienced discrimination” from the USDA, removing race as a criterion for eligibility.

“broken promise”

John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, said that by removing the “farmers of color” language originally set forth in the bill, the revised measure hurts black farmers because it opens debt-relief funds to farmers of all races. This would mean fewer black farmers get forgiveness for USDA loans because they are outnumbered by white farmers across the country, said Boyd, a Virginia farmer.

The change to farm funding comes a year after at least six federal lawsuits were filed by white farmers who claimed the law was unfair because it barred them from applying for loan forgiveness because of their race. The lawsuits still pending have come from small producers in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Boyd condemned the changes to the funding program.

“It’s a broken promise and a broken contract between the US government and black farmers,” he said. “It’s a huge loss for us and the other black farmers who are waiting on this.”

Black farmers may still qualify for a significant portion of the assistance provided under the inflation bill, although it is unclear whether their applications will be put in by other applicants who are now eligible for relief. Boyd said it would boil down to how the USDA sets the criteria.

The USDA still has not determined what farmers must submit to prove they have been discriminated against or are distressed, the agency told CBS Moneywatch.

“The USDA wants to move quickly and our team is already examining the best path forward and our options for language compliance,” a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch on Friday.

For decades, farmers of color have complained that what they say is unfair treatment when applying for USDA loans. A U.S. Civil Rights Commission report from 1982 found that the agency’s lending arm “did not place sufficient emphasis or priority on the crisis facing black farmers.” In some cases, the USDA “may have hindered the efforts of black small farm operators to remain a viable force in agriculture,” it added.

Recently, farmers of color say it has become harder to obtain agricultural credit because lenders make them “more likely to operate small, low-revenue farms, have weak credit histories, or require clear title to their agricultural land.” shortfall”, a 2019 report from the US Government Accountability Office found.

Boyd expressed dismay at how long it takes farmers to receive federal aid, saying the process could take more than a year and noting that the U.K. during the ongoing war with Russia .s. How quickly has sent billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine.

“We have support for everyone in the world,” he told CBS News. “We have $100 million – made fast – and went to the farmers of Ukraine and not a penny went out to the black farmers of our country. And there’s something wrong with that picture, and we can do better than this in this country.” Huh.

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