WASHINGTON – The arrival of US Senator Raphael Warnock in Congress earlier this year coincided with a belated recognition of the historic discrimination inflicted on black farmers by the US Department of Agriculture.
The plight of farmers has become a top priority for Warnock, a Georgian Democrat whose victory in the second round of the January special elections gave his party a narrow majority in the Senate for the first time in a decade.
Democratic Senate leaders who want him re-elected in 2022 also highlight Warnock’s key role in passing legislation and shaping policy to provide economic relief to black farmers in the United States and in the State of Peach.
On top of that, the House Agriculture Committee – long a stronghold of mostly white agricultural state lawmakers – is now headed by its first black chairman, Rep. David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia whose hearing inaugural reviewed the decades of losses suffered by blacks. farmers in the United States
A third Democrat from Georgia, Rep. Sanford Bishop, is the chairman of the powerful House subcommittee on farm credits.
“All of these factors created a perfect storm for African American farmers and agricultural issues to be at the center of public policy,” said Dr Veronica Womack, executive director of the Rural Studies Institute at Georgia College and University. state and black belt. Researcher of the region. The region includes counties from Virginia to Texas with large African American populations.
Prevent further loss of land
Warnock won a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, where, even as a rookie, he chairs a task force that oversees agricultural production and programs such as crop insurance, trade, food aid and credit.
As one of his first acts in Congress, he co-sponsored – along with other Senate Democrats – the Justice for Black Farmers Act, first introduced last year by Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey. .
If passed and enacted, the law would create policies to end discrimination within the USDA, prevent further loss of land to black farmers, and restore land that has been lost. It would also provide land grants to encourage the next generation of black farmers to enter the industry.
Black farmers have faced systemic discrimination in loans and subsidies over the years, leading to heavy debts and loss of land, members of Congress said at the House hearing on agriculture summoned by Scott.
âLand ownership allows people to tap into the economy of the region,â Womack said. “Land is a passport to this economy.”
In the $ 1.9 trillion US bailout, black lawmakers worked to free up $ 5 billion to help black farmers. Much of the framework for this plan was taken from a bill Warnock introduced shortly after he was sworn in, the Farmers of Color Emergency Relief Act.
âI was proud that we were able to pass my Farmer of Color Emergency Relief Act which will help begin to level the playing field for farmers and farm families of color so they can not only recovering from the devastation of last year, but finally have the tools and assistance they need to thrive, as they have long been denied due to systemic discrimination from the USDA, âWarnock said. in a press release to the Georgia Recorder.
Georgia’s agricultural industry, which produces everything from chicken to blueberries, contributes $ 73.3 billion to its economy annually and about 1 in 7 Georgians work in agricultural production, according to the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation, the largest organization. state agriculture.
In Georgia, there are about 2,870 black farmers today, out of 50,000 black farmers across the country, according to USDA data.
In contrast, in 1920 there were about one million black farmers, across the United States, making up about 7% of the agricultural landscape. Black farmers currently make up just 1.4% of the country’s farmers. White farmers make up 98% of rural farmers, according to the USDA.
Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta before his election to the Senate, also has a personal connection to agriculture. During his victory speech after defeating former Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, he reflected on his mother’s trip.
In the 1950s, Verlene Warnock spent her teenage summers picking cotton and tobacco, before becoming a pastor, he said.
“Because this is America, the hands of 82 who used to pick someone else’s cotton went to the polls and chose his youngest son to be United States Senator” Warnock said after being the expected winner of the Georgia Senate second round. .
As Warnock prepares for his six-year re-election campaign, he also recently visited the agricultural regions of southwest Georgia, including Peach, Sumter, Lee, Colquitt, Terrell and Worth counties.
Warnock while there praised his work in helping the US bailout go through. He also listened to concerns, met with leaders and small farmers, and closed the tour with an appearance with Bishop, the House owner.
âFarmers here in Georgia have needs and priorities that are a bit different from those in the Midwest or other parts of the country,â Warnock said during his tour of Colquitt County, in an interview with Farm Monitor.
“I’m here to learn all I can about the challenges they face, so that when we come up with public policies, we make life better and not worse, easier and not harder,” he said. he declares.
Andra Gillespie, professor of political science at Emory University, said Warnock’s farm tour was important for a senator representing a state with a huge agricultural industry.
âIf a lawmaker does not build a reputation for meeting the needs of his constituents, it could actually hurt them in the next election,â she said. “So he does this to be responsive.”
She added that the farm tour has shown his constituents that he is invested in the industry and that he is ready to listen to the needs of farmers.
âHe grew up in Savannah, he lives in Atlanta, so he could easily be portrayed by an opponent as being out of touch with the needs of the half of the state that doesn’t live in a metro area,â Gillespie said. “And so speaking of agricultural issues, he’s sort of addressing that issue.”
Georgia and the Senate
In recent months in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) has kept Warnock and his Georgia colleague Jon Ossoff in the spotlight, stressing that the adoption of the massive plan to American rescue was possible thanks to their victories. in Georgia.
At a press conference in February, Schumer said Warnock had pushed for funding for historically black colleges and universities, and “debt relief for black farmers who have been ignored for too long in Georgia and elsewhere. “.
“These talented fighters are actually keeping their promise when they showed up, that they were actually going to provide real help, that elections have consequences, that the difference between Ossoff and Warnock in the Senate is very real to the vast majority of people. ordinary people. in Georgia and in the country, âSchumer said.
Schumer was the one who convinced Warnock to run for the Senate, according to the New York Times.
Warnock raised $ 5.6 million in its first quarter of campaign fundraising, according to recent Federal Election Commission files.
The Blue Senate 2022 PAC, the Senate Democratic leadership PAC, contributed more than $ 40,000 to Warnock’s campaign, and the Warnock Victory Fund PAC contributed more than $ 400,000 to his campaign, according to FEC reports.
Even though Warnock won his second round in the Senate with 51% of the vote, Gillespie said Democrats should assume they were losers and go after all possible Democratic voters and get them to the polls in 2022.
âThe way Warnock can do this is to make sure not only to find all of the eligible voters in central Atlanta who are voting, but also to find all of the rural Democratic voters who are more likely to be a person of color. and make sure they vote as well, âshe said.
Warnock, while in Congress, also criticized a new electoral law in Georgia that voters say will deprive voters of color as well as those living in rural areas.
Democrats in Congress, in response to this and other new state voting initiatives, are trying to push through a massive package of voting rights and campaign finance and electoral reform.
âA lot of these states have already passed this terrible legislation,â Warnock said, according to Capitol Hill Pool Streams. âThese voter suppression bills that we see coming out of state legislatures make this issue absolutely urgent. We understand the urgency and you will see us move the bill forward quickly. “
Heading into 2022, Warnock has just two Republican challengers so far, Latham Saddler, a former Trump official, and Kelvin King, a prominent black construction leader.
Former Republican Senator David Perdue, who lost his re-election campaign to Ossoff, said he had no plans to attempt a comeback despite filing paperwork to explore a race against Warnock. Former Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Declined to run against Warnock.
Broadband, land grant colleges
Other upcoming policy issues related to black farmers and agriculture in general include improving broadband as well as earmarked funds for universities granting land that would be included in the infrastructure bill. $ 2 trillion proposed by the Biden administration, known as the American Jobs Act.
At Twitter, Warnock expressed support for broadband to “help bridge the gap between rural and urban communities.”
Lawmakers should also consider monitoring USDA programs such as county offices where most black farmers have faced discrimination in the form of denial or delay of loans, Dr Ralph said. Noble, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Family Sciences, and Technology at Fort Valley University.
He added that in addition to broadband, he hopes lawmakers like Warnock will consider allocating funds to HBCUs and 19 land grant universities to provide training to farmers, adding that land grant universities have established links with farmers in their communities.
âTo make sure these programs and policies have an impact,â Noble said, Congress needs to âconnect with these schools and universities that have programs that historically work in these communities.