By Leah Douglas
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration will begin accepting applications for $2.2 billion in financial assistance for farmers who have experienced discrimination at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency announced on Friday.
For decades, the USDA’s relationship with farmers of color, women and other under-represented groups in agriculture has been fractured over alleged discrimination in the agency’s farm loan programs, an issue the Biden administration pledged to address.
“The opening of the application process is an important step in delivering on our commitment of providing financial assistance to those who faced discrimination in USDA farm lending, as swiftly and efficiently as possible,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.
The Biden administration previously attempted to provide debt relief specifically to farmers of color but white farmers blocked that effort in court.
The program opening on Friday, called the Discrimination Financial Assistance Program, is funded by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
To apply for the funds, farmers, ranchers and owners of forest land must detail experiences of discrimination by USDA personnel on the basis of race, religion, gender or other identities that resulted in being turned down for USDA loans, receiving poor loan terms or other outcomes that resulted in the loss of land, homes or other assets.
USDA is partnering with several organizations for Black, Native American, young, and other marginalized farmers to provide support in the application process.
“This process is the best we have right now, and we must make it work for the farmers who have suffered at the hands of the USDA,” said Savi Horne, director of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers Land Loss Prevention Project, one of the partner groups, in a statement.
The agency will accept applications until Oct. 31. USDA had previously said it will distribute payments by the end of this year.
(Reporting by Leah Douglas in WashingtonEditing by Matthew Lewis and Barbara Lewis)
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