Vilsack, SC’s Clyburn touts COVID-aid farmers’ debt relief
Outside on his 300+ acre farm, where he and his family grow corn, soybeans, oats, barley, cotton and wheat, 69-year-old Nathaniel Rhodes s remembered how black farmers like him struggled to get loans to run their operations. .
He said minorities would see higher interest rates than their white counterparts.
“We’ve always…paid more or we’ll be denied when our credit gets better, or just as good…(because of) skin color,” Rhodes said.
And after a year where farmers have seen less demand for their crops due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rhodes and his family, along with other minority farmers, are set to receive targeted aid. .
Along with Rhodes, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promoted a USDA loan forgiveness program for disadvantaged farmerswhich was included as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the Biden administration’s COVID relief package that became law in March.
Black, Native American, Alaska Native, Hispanic, Asian American, or Pacific Islander farmers are eligible for USDA to repay 120% of loans that farmers have been issued or guaranteed by the USDA.
“It’s very targeted, it’s very specific, and it resolves the disparity between white farmers who received a huge amount of money during the COVID relief situation and socially disadvantaged producers who received relatively very little,” said said Vilsack.
The USDA expects the program to repay 15,000 to 18,000 loans worth up to $4 billion, Vilsack said.
The Trump administration had $26 billion available for farmers under COVID relief legislation. However, Vilsack said almost everything went to white farmers.
Black farmers represent 1.3% of the 3.4 million farmers in the country, according to the USDA. Black farmers only got 0.1% COVID to farmers, Vilsack told The Washington Post.
In 2017, more than 35,800 of South Carolina’s 38,970 farmers were white.
In 2017, more than 35,800 of South Carolina’s 38,970 farmers were white, while 2,570 SC farmers were black, according to the USDA.
“It’s to right a wrong,” Clyburn said. “I learned from my history that the greatness of this country is not that we are more enlightened in this nation, but because we have always been able to repair our faults.”
Vilsack said banks will receive prepayment penalties for repaying losses with prepaid loans, and banks will again be able to lend money at a higher interest rate.
“When you repay all loans, you eliminate all risk to the bank,” Vilsack said.
The program will repay farm property loans, operating loans, conservation loans, storage facility loans, micro and youth loans, emergency loans, conservation loans and land and water loans.
Although Rhodes himself has no farm debt, the program will help his children and grandchildren carry on the family business.
“This loan would help me with some of the things things I’ve already spent my personal money on and things I might like to do on the farm in the future to help my kids grow,” Rhodes said.
His 16-year-old grandson, Eric Jones, has a youth loan. This is his third year of borrowing $5,000, which Jones was able to repay for the first two years.
But being eligible for that USDA program this year gives Jones a head start for next year, when having cash is essential to keeping a farming business going. Crop prices fluctuate, but the price of inputs such as equipment, pesticides, seeds and taxes all increase.
“That’s more money in my pocket for seeds, fertilizer and a little more stuff for next year,” Jones said.
To find out how to apply, go to www.farmers.gov/americanrescueplan.
This story was originally published May 24, 2021 3:51 p.m.