By Aris Folley
John Boyd Jr., the president of the National Black Farmers Association, called on Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to apologize for comments he made recently taking aim at a provision in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that seeks to help socially disadvantaged Black farmers and farmers of color.
During an appearance on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton” on Sunday, Boyd, who has long been an advocate in Washington for Black farmers, criticized Graham for comments balking at the provision’s inclusion in the coronavirus relief bill despite, in Boyd’s words, having “never once used his megaphone to speak out against the discrimination” Black farmers have long faced.
“I lobbied Sen. Lindsey Graham as a congressman. I lobbied him as a senator. I’ve been by his office and asked him to help me fix the problems at the United States Department of Agriculture that caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of land and address the lack of loans and subsidies, and he’s never once used his megaphone to speak out against the discrimination,” he said.
“But as soon as we get justice here, some 30 years later, his very first words — he said he found it troubling, and in his last part of his statement, he said that we need to check them,” he said.
The Hill has reached out to Graham’s office for comment.
Boyd was referring to comments Graham made in an appearance on Fox News last week about the provision, which seeks to establish a $5 billion fund for debt repayment aimed at helping disadvantaged farmers.
Graham said during the appearance that he was “really” bothered by the provision’s inclusion in the coronavirus bill, blasting it as part of a Democratic “wish list.”
“Let me give you an example of something that really bothers me. In this bill, if you’re a farmer, your loan will be forgiven up to 120 percent of your loan … if you’re socially disadvantaged, if you’re African American, some other minority. But if you’re [a] white person, if you’re a white woman, no forgiveness. That’s reparations. What does that have to do with COVID?” he said.
Due to years of racial discrimination, Black farmers are more likely to have more debt, less land and less access to credit. According to estimates from the Farm Bureau, Black farmers account for roughly a fourth disadvantaged farms that would be eligible for loan relief under the fund program.
However, the provision does not include language that bars white farmers from applying for the benefits.
In his appearance on MSNBC on Sunday, Boyd said the measure “rectifies a wrong for Black and other farmers of color” who have been “shut out of the U.S. farm subsidy program, U.S. farm lending at the United States Department of Agriculture,” among other programs.
He went on to label Graham’s comments as “racist” and said his organization is calling for the senator to issue an apology.
“The National Black Farmers Association is calling for him to apologize. … He needs to apologize not only to our Black farmers but to Black people in this country who struggled for so very, very long, and now we get a chance for a little bit of justice, and he uses his megaphone to play this race type thing when he knows that firsthand that Black farmers have suffered,” he said.
“He has 6,000 Black farmers in his state, and he won’t help us, but he uses his megaphone to try to deny payments from Black farmers,” he added.
During the interview, Boyd also put pressure on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to “immediately” get debt relief out to “the thousands of Black farmers that desperately need it right now.”
“I spoke to Secretary Vilsack yesterday and urged him to hurry up and put in place the commission and to get the debt relief to not just Black farmers but farmers of color, Native American farmers, Hispanic farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers. He can’t be the same Secretary Vilsack he was under the Obama years. He’s going to have to take a more aggressive approach to help fix the discriminating culture,” he added.