USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday morning that his department would provide $ 67 million in loans to farmers struggling with the property issues of their heirs.
Property operators of the heirs are farmers who have a family tie to their land but not legally. For example, if a landowner died without a will, that land would be divided among the owner’s heirs. Once they died, the land would be further divided between their heirs. Although property may be under the control of a single family for generations, it has no legal title or claim to the land. This means that they cannot easily sell the land or consolidate the fractured areas.
Heir property issues have the most impact on black farmers in the South, although Latinx and Native farmers have also faced its repercussions. After the Civil War, the federal Homestead Law gave land to black families, mainly in the South, and many of them became homeowners for the first time. But since many black people did not have access to legal services at the time, they often did not have an official will to legally transmit property. Instead, most property was simply inherited, or it changed hands through private transactions. If landowners don’t have the right documentation for their land, it makes them more vulnerable to developers who can buy back title from families who have been farming that land for generations. It also contributed to the racial wealth gap by stifling the ability of black families to build generational wealth.
It became a bigger problem after the intervention of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 Agricultural stabilization and conservation services Entered into force. At the time, the USDA set up a loan program to help farmers, but it disproportionately helped white farmers who used loopholes in title to buy and aggregate large tracts of land. The USDA recently called the heirs property “Main cause of black soil loss” in the countryside. Some estimates say that over 95 percent of black landowners have been displaced over the past century.
Today, about a third of black-owned land in the South is considered heir property, and this loan program is an effort to reverse the wrongs of past administrations. When announcing the funding, Illinois MP Cheri Bustos was adamant, noting that in her district there was only one black farmer listed out of 9,600. “In the past, the USDA and our country have done badly towards black farmers, completely badly, ”Bustos said. “As someone who has proudly served the farming community for many years now, I am here to say that it is high time we took action to address this.
Georgian Senator Raphael Warnock also joined the call, calling the loan program “a critical step in the right direction”.
When asked, Vilsack replied that this loan program is not associated with the planned loans to black farmers which were reduced by the courts earlier this year. These loans were part of the Coronavirus Relief Package, while this program was designed under the Farm Bill of 2018, although no work was done until 2021.
The Farm Service Agency will open the application window at the end of August, and intermediary lenders can apply for loans of up to $ 5 million, at an interest rate of 1%. These intermediary lenders, such as co-ops, nonprofits, and community credit unions, will then lend these funds directly to farmers and families. The money will be used to help consolidate the fractured land, pay for legal fees to obtain title to the land, and costs associated with creating succession plans for their land.