The USDA has a long and upsetting history of discrimination against farmers of color.
One example of that is the fact that the grants, loans and subsidies the USDA has distributed over the years have rarely made it into the bank accounts of Black farmers. A new proposed bill, from Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, aims to reveal who is receiving those subsidies.
One frequently repeated statistic when it comes to the history of Black farmers in the United States goes back to 1920, when there were around 950,000 Black farmers in the country. Today, there are only 45,000. Black farmers also, on average, make far less money than white farmers and own far less land, as a result of discriminatory policies: it has long been far more difficult for Black farmers to secure grants, loans and land, compared with white farmers.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when American farmers received record amounts of government aid, little of it went to Black farmers; on average, white farmers received eight times more in aid than Black farmers—this is a larger gap than the average income discrepancy between white and Black farmers, which is already significant, at roughly $190,000 per year to under $40,000 per year, according to a report from The Guardian.
One major issue in taking action on discriminatory policies is that the public simply doesn’t know where all that USDA money is going. The Rush/Booker bill, the Farm Subsidy Transparency Act of 2021, “would require [the] USDA to track and publicly disclose the race and gender of all individuals who receive farm assistance through USDA, as well as the amount of assistance received,” according to a press release from Representative Rush’s website. That would include subsidies, loans, crop insurance, disaster assistance and incentives for conservation efforts. It would also, interestingly, require that this information be provided for those who were rejected from getting aid.
If that data was available to the public, it could help mobilize outrage on behalf of farmers who have historically been denied the same access and funding as white, male farmers. This proposed bill is part of an effort by some Democrats to right the wrongs of racist USDA policies, or at least begin to; President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, also included $4 billion for Black farmers, which attracted partisan lawsuits.