Coronavirus Relief Package Provides for Historic Changes at the USDA with $5 Billion to Support BIPOC Farmers

Statement by Navina Khanna, Executive Director of the HEAL Food Alliance and Ricardo Salvador, Director of the Food & Environment Program at Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Mar 11, 2021

WASHINGTON (March 11, 2021)—President Biden today signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, sweeping legislation that will send direct payments to U.S. families affected by the pandemic and economic recession, extend unemployment benefits and increase the child tax credit.

Notably, the legislation provides $4 billion to support direct relief payments to help farmers and ranchers of color pay off outstanding Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm loan debts and related taxes, plus $1 billion to root out systemic racism at the USDA via grants and assistance to support Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers in acquiring land. The legislation also provides for technical and legal assistance to agricultural communities of color, bolsters underfunded programs that will spur growth for farmers and communities of color, and increases financial support for research and education at historically Black colleges and land grant universities.

In 2020, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the HEAL Food Alliance published a joint policy brief, Leveling the Fields: Opportunities for Black People, Indigenous People, and Other People of Color, that identified ways to remove long-standing obstacles experienced by BIPOC farmers. Several of the policy opportunities that were identified are included in the relief bill.

Below is a joint statement by Navina Khanna, executive director of the HEAL Food Alliance, and Dr. Ricardo Salvador, a senior scientist and director of the Food & Environment Program at UCS.

“This bold bill must be the beginning of a true sea change. With $5 billion in funding, the USDA under the Biden administration has resources to turn the page of history and correct the persistently racist policies and practices that have been in place at the agency for decades. These funds will begin to address structural and institutional barriers that have resulted in a staggering loss of land for Black farmers in the 20th century and have kept Black farmers from receiving the same access to land, technical support, financial resources and wealth that white farmers have experienced.

“Black, Indigenous and communities of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic and its economic repercussions, largely due to systemic racism in society and in government agencies and programs intended to help people. For too long the USDA has been among the worst offenders. This legislation is a major step forward. It should represent only the beginning of similar long-term investments by governments, the private sector, philanthropies and others to contribute to building equity and sustainability in U.S. food systems.

“The opportunities and solutions funded by the relief bill must be developed by and with—rather than for—Black People, Indigenous People and People of Color directly affected by the USDA’s food and agricultural policies.”