Vilsack Pledges to Implement Minority Debt Relief | 2021-03-25

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged to the House Agriculture Committee to “eliminate” systemic racism and barriers in the USDA that prevent black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers from receiving the same level of aid as white farmers.

He also said the department would work as quickly as possible to implement the provisions of the US bailout to distribute $ 4 billion in debt relief to black farmers and other minorities with direct or guaranteed loans, including including Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders and American farmers. Farmers will receive payments equivalent to 120% of their debt; the additional 20% is intended to cover the taxes that farmers would have to pay on the payments.

In what committee chairman David Scott, D-Ga., Called a “historic hearing,” Vilsack said a task force had been formed across all USDA agencies to combat the discrimination in the award of contracts, benefits and other services.

Although “good faith efforts” have been made in the past to respond to specific acts of discrimination, “much remains to be done to deepen the systemic causes and obstacles that perpetuate discriminatory practices and to directly address the issue of discrimination. cumulative effect of discrimination. ,” he said.

Vilsack said the ministry sent a letter to banks on Wednesday holding secured loans asking for their forbearance.

“As you probably know, on January 26, 2021, USDA suspended all adverse actions for all direct loan borrowers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Farm Service Agency administrator Zach Ducheneaux said in the letter. “At that time, we also encouraged secured lenders to be flexible and consider similar limits, especially on liquidations. We are now ask lenders to stay all adverse actions for all borrowers of USDA guaranteed loans until the Secretary and the FSA have established a process for making payments under Section 1005 ”of the ARP (bold in original).

Vilsack also said the USDA was trying to assess whether farmers receiving debt relief payments would be subject to prepayment penalties on their loans and would work with lenders on this issue.

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Vilsack pointed out the Appointment of Dewayne Goldmon as Senior Advisor on Racial Equity, whose job it is to “put an equity perspective on everything we do,” and said he looks forward to working with Afro Assistant First Secretary -American from the department, Jewel Bronaugh, who has yet to be confirmed.

Vilsack was pushed back by Republicans on the committee. Representative Austin Scott of Georgia said he believes it is “racist” that white women are not eligible for debt relief aid, but members of the Democratic side and Vilsack himself said debt relief resolves historic discrimination.

Vilsack is also committed to diversifying employment within the FSA and FSA County Committees. “We need to create a larger network for people to work in local offices,” he said.

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