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ACRE Act would limit race-based distribution of USDA funding

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This past year, we have seen a lot of proposed changes concerning race in our country — and the agriculture industry is included in the discussion. However, two Congressmen have also proposed changes that would affect how the U.S. Department of Agriculture awards money to farmers and ranchers — their effort would limit future expenditures like the $5 billion funding for Black farmer debt relief and other provisions that was tacked onto the Biden administration’s COVID relief bill last month.

Republican Reps. Tom Tiffany (Wis.) and Burgess Owens (Utah) plan to introduce the Agriculture Civil Rights and Equality Act (ACRE Act), which would prohibit officials at the USDA from discriminating or providing preferential treatment to any person on the basis of race, color, national origin, or sex. 

The proposed prohibitions would apply to USDA hiring, contracting, and programming, including programs administered by states, territories, and universities using USDA funds.

The bill was introduced as a counter action to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 coronavirus package. Biden signed the $1.9 trillion spending package into law last month, which includes the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, constituting $4 billion in debt relief for farmers of color and an additional $1 billion in other assistance. That provision, introduced by Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, also referenced several other issues that are a priority for the Black agricultural community, such as heir’s property, access to the legal system, and better support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture

“It’s one thing to gear relief programs to farmers who have fallen on hard times and are struggling to make ends meet,” said Tiffany in a statement. “But it is fundamentally unfair for the government to treat farmers differently based on immutable characteristics.”

“Farmers from all walks of life face tremendous challenges, especially as their industry navigates a post-pandemic economy. I’m deeply concerned that Congress feels emboldened to perpetuate a modern-day form of racial segregation rather than provide relief to those who need it most,” said Owens in a press release. “My grandfather, a respected farmer in the 1950s and ‘60s Black middle class, would be mortified by any policy that seeks to discriminate based on race. Racism was and will always be wrong.”

“To extend assistance to some farmers but not others based on race undermines the constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all Americans,” Tiffany concluded. “If we are serious about ending discrimination in the agriculture sector, the first step is for the government to stop doing the discriminating.”

While Black farmers praised the passage of the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act and the assistance it provided after decades of discrimination by the USDA, many farmers and ranchers called the act divisive and unfairly giving Black farmers aid at a time when agriculturalists of all races have struggled.

Although the bill has yet to be introduced, the future does not look promising for the bill to be signed into law since Tiffany and Owens are not a part of the current majority party. 

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