By Stacy Brown
Racial disparities in American farming have always existed. In a 1998 settlement, the United States Department of Agriculture admitted to systemic discrimination against Black farmers. In 2010, similar actions were taken against Native Americans.
Now, a new farming bill could act as a start to ending the long-standing disparities and discrimination in the agriculture field.
On Monday, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, joined other CBC members on a conference call with the media to discuss the passage of new legislation they said will help level the playing field.
“This is what was needed,” Richmond said.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who introduced the Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act of 2018 in the House, called it a “significant win.”
Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
Also among CBC members on the teleconference were Democratic Reps. Alma Adams of North Carolina and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.
“The CBC is a longtime advocate for Black farmers, [for] ending food insecurity, for enlightening and improving [historically Black colleges and universities]” and more, Lee said. “No other voice is as sound and as vibrant.”
Black farmers, who collectively have filed and won multibillion-dollar lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in recent decades for discriminatory practices, have new protections in the farm bill.
As first reported by Essence magazine, one involves the ability to pass their farms down to relatives and heirs.
Some estimates show that 60 percent of land owned by African Americans in the U.S. are heirs’ property, which, according to the USDA, is “land that has been passed down informally from generation to generation. In most cases, it involves landowners who died without a will.”
In order to access USDA loans for crops and other needs, farmers must have a designated farm number, which requires documentation verifying ownership of the land, Essence reported.
Because there is often no transfer of title with heirs’ property, many Black and other farmers of color are left without access to vital resources, the magazine noted.
The 2018 farm bill will now allow heir-property farmers to apply for USDA programs.
The farm bill will also provide a major boost to the nation’s HBCUs — specifically 19 Black land-grant universities, such as North Carolina A&T, which date back to the 1890s.
These public institutions will get funding, which the CBC said some states have been “unfairly denying them for years.”
The bill does away with a decades-old provision mandating that these HBCUs could only carry over 20 percent of federal funding that wasn’t used in a calendar year; the rule didn’t apply to predominantly white land-grant universities.
The bill brings $40 million in mandatory funding and another $40 million in discretionary funding for new scholarships at each of the nation’s land-grant universities.
This means that each school will receive at least $2 million in new funding for scholarships to attract students over the next five years, according to a breakdown by Essence.
Fellow CBC member Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) and Adams, an educator who founded the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, are among those who championed the provision.
“We know farmers are aging out, and we’re trying to get younger folks interested in the field,” Adams said.
The measure also includes $10 million a year to establish Centers of Excellence — research facilities on at least three HBCU campuses — the sites will be selected by the secretary of agriculture) with specific focuses, such as working to bolster food security.
Richmond said he hoped that it would help alleviate so-called food deserts (a lack of fresh fruit and produce) that exist in many urban and rural communities nationwide.
Moreover, the farm bill gives seniors, families with children, and others who are struggling financially access to meals and healthy food via government-funded nutrition programs.
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), was a sticking point in congressional negotiations; Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to dismantle nutrition by imposing work requirements on recipients.
The final farm bill, which has bipartisan support, does not require such rules.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.