Congressman Austin Scott

Representing the 8th District of Georgia

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Rep. Austin Scott Leads Letter to Sec. Vilsack on Minority Farmer Aid in COVID Relief Package

March 16, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Austin Scott (GA-08), a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee, led a letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), expressing concerns with a provision of the COVID-19 relief package (also known as the American Rescue Plan) that grants certain socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers debt forgiveness up to 120% of their outstanding farm loans.

In addition to expressing opposition to the provision, found under Section 1005 of the legislation, the Members express concerns that the scope of the program is too wide, foreign nationals could be eligible for a loan forgiveness payment, and women are not eligible for forgiveness even though they are able to apply to USDA’s Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher Loan Program.

“As USDA begins to implement Section 1005, we hope that you promulgate rules that apply eligibility standards and provide loan payments only to American farmers and ranchers without discrimination against women. USDA and the Administration have a duty to responsibly and fairly administer the tax dollars of hardworking Americans,” wrote the Members. “Thank you for your time and consideration of our concerns, and we look forward to a prompt response as to how the Administration intends to remedy Section 1005’s discrimination against women and if the Administration intends to make payments to foreign nationals under this program.”

You can read the full text of the letter below or by clicking here.

 

March 16, 2021

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20250

 

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

On March 10, 2021, the House passed the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (H.R. 1319), as amended by the U.S. Senate, with President Joe Biden signing the legislation into law on March 12, 2021.

While we have several concerns with the $1.9 trillion bill, we write today to call your attention to Section 1005 which authorizes the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA or the Department) to make payments up to 120% of the outstanding indebtedness of all but one group of socially disadvantaged (SDA) farmers utilizing USDA loan programs, including direct farm loans made by USDA and USDA-guaranteed farm loans.

Proponents of this provision assert that forgiveness is necessary to address discrimination claims not adequately settled in Pigford and other court cases, which focused on USDA discrimination in farm lending in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Contrary to these settlements, there is no requirement in Section 1005 to prove discrimination to receive a claim. If the intent is to provide additional federal assistance to satisfy discrimination claims under the cases from the 1980’s and 1990’s, then Section 1005 should be tailored in the rulemaking process to only apply to these recipients and their heirs. If the intent of Section 1005 is to provide loan forgiveness to SDA farmers not associated with these cases who assert they have been discriminated against, then the Department should require evidence of discrimination in USDA’s lending for a farmer to receive this payment.

Furthermore if in the rulemaking process, USDA should apply the current Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) SDA Farmers and Ranchers Loan program eligibility definition which includes the following groups: American Indians or Alaskan Natives, Asians, Blacks or African-Americans, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and women.  Section 1005 currently uses a definition from the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 that includes all of these groups – but excludes women. We would appreciate an explanation from the Biden Administration of how they intend to remedy this blatant discrimination against women.

Additionally, any Section 1005 loan forgiveness payments should not be made to non-U.S. citizens. While Section 1005 does not specify that non-U.S. citizens would be ineligible for the debt relief, the provision references 7 U.S.C. 1922 which has a requirement for a recipient of a loan to be a U.S. citizen. This loan forgiveness should be limited to citizens of the United States that qualify as SDA farmers and ranchers rather than allowing broad language that would pay foreign nationals as much as 120% of their outstanding USDA loan balances.

As USDA begins to implement Section 1005, we hope that you promulgate rules that apply eligibility standards and provide loan payments only to American farmers and ranchers without discrimination against women. USDA and the Administration have a duty to responsibly and fairly administer the tax dollars of hardworking Americans. Thank you for your time and consideration of our concerns, and we look forward to a prompt response as to how the Administration intends to remedy Section 1005’s discrimination against women and if the Administration intends to make payments to foreign nationals under this program.

Sincerely,

Rep. Austin Scott (GA-08)

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY-AL)

Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN-01)

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR-01)

Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL-12)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01)

Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS-01)

Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA-10)

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO-04)

Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC-07)

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL)

Rep. W. Gregorory Steube (R-FL-17)

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA-03)

Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA-01)

Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA- 10)

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-04)

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC-05)

Rep. John Joyce (R-PA-13)

Rep. Barry Moore (R-AL-02)

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA-09)

Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO-08)

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC-03)

 

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