The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday that it will begin making loan forgiveness payments in June to thousands of minority farmers as part of the Biden administration’s $4 billion debt relief program.
The initiative, part of the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that Congress passed in March, has been criticized by white farmers, who claim that it is a form of reverse discrimination, and by banks, which have complained they are losing out on profits from lost interest payments. Delays in implementing the program have frustrated Black farmer organizations, whose members have struggled financially for years and received little help from the Trump administration’s farm bailouts last year.
The USDA will initially make debt relief payments for about 13,000 loans that were made directly by the agency to minority farmers. The next phase will apply to the approximately 3,000 loans that were made by banks and guaranteed by the USDA. That will begin “no later” than 120 days from Friday, the agency said.
“The American Rescue Plan has made it possible for USDA to deliver historic debt relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement. “USDA is recommitting itself to gaining the trust and confidence of America’s farmers and ranchers using a new set of tools provided in the American Rescue Plan to increase opportunity, advance equity and address systemic discrimination in USDA programs.”
Borrowers will receive letters from the USDA next week with information about their loan balances. After farmers confirm the amount they are due to be paid, the USDA will disburse payments. The agency is paying an additional 20% on top of the outstanding loan amounts to cover associated taxes and fees.
The USDA said it will begin the process of paying off the guaranteed loans this summer.
The banks want the federal government to pay money beyond the outstanding loan amount so that banks and investors will not miss out on interest payments or money that they would have made reselling the loans to other investors.
The USDA has said that it does not have the authority to cover the banks’ lost interest income.