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New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand calls on USDA to quickly implement farm debt relief in the Inflation Reduction Act

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (file)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is the latest New York representative calling on the federal agriculture department to quickly implement the farm debt relief provisions included in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

The Inflation Reduction Act includes nearly $40 billion for agriculture, forestry and rural development. It also includes $3.1 billion for agricultural debt reduction and $2.2 billion for farmers who have experienced discrimination in USDA loan programs.

Earlier this month, New York Farm Bureau Associate Director of National Affairs Lauren Williams said it offers important assistance for distressed and underserved farmers.

“Be it beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged, farmers that may have been discriminated in the past, I think this will be a good opportunity for USDA to kind of broaden their ability to serve those farmers that and assist those farmers who may not have been able to access programs in the past.”

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand says even before the COVID pandemic New York farmers had been saddled with Farm Service Agency loans that led to default or closure of operations. On Wednesday the Senator noted that last year she and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat representing the 18th district, had introduced the Relief for Small Farmers Act to help reduce small farm debt. Gillibrand is gratified that $5.3 billion in debt relief and assistance proposed in that earlier bill became part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“That funding included $3.1 billion for distressed borrowers or direct or guaranteed loans administered by the FSA and $2.2 billion in financial assistance to farmers who have suffered discrimination in USDA farm lending programs. Unfortunately the Inflation Reduction Act didn’t lay out how the USDA would determine what farmers are eligible for this funding.”

Senator Gillibrand says failing to define eligibility could mean many small farms will be unable to get assistance.

“Some farmers are worrying about selling their farms because of the debt they have incurred. Others are worried that because they have not yet defaulted on their loans they could potentially be left out if the IRA’s relief even though they’re struggling enormously to make their payments. And still more are concerned that the relief passed in the Inflation Reduction Act won’t come soon enough to prevent businesses from suffering irreparably. I’m urging the Biden Administration to clarify the eligibility guidelines for this relief and to quickly provide the funding. It’s imperative that the USDA acts quickly and takes into consideration economically distressed farmers who are on the brink of defaulting.”

Gillibrand wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing her concerns and describing the economic hardships that small farms across New York are facing.

“I’ve talked to farmers across the state who are not doing well because of something that has happened to their crops either through the weather or the normal workings of our agricultural policy that frankly just doesn’t work. They’re struggling and it’s every part of the state.”

President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act on August 16th. It also includes provisions for corporate tax reform, funding the Internal Revenue Service, capping certain Medicare costs, funding clean energy and fighting climate change.

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