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Blog | October 29, 2021

Congressional Update: Build Back Better

by Jennifer Fahy

Yesterday, Congress shared language from the proposed budget reconciliation bill, which, if passed, would provide groundbreaking investments to address long-standing inequities in our food and farming system, create jobs for rural communities, and help farmers and ranchers increase their conservation practices to play a central role in our national response to the climate crisis. Though the overall price tag of this landmark legislation has been significantly decreased to secure majority support in Congress, we are pleased to see that the agriculture programs initially proposed remain largely intact.

The Build Back Better Act includes $27.15 billion designated for a number of working lands conservation programs, which offer technical and financial support to farmers to implement conservation practices on their farms that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon and improve soil health. This support can help farmers protect and strengthen soil while also strengthening their farms’ ability to weather future natural disasters wreaked by climate change.

“Even with the steep cuts to the budget reconciliation bill necessary to secure its passage, Congress is making a transformative investment in conservation, agricultural research, rural development, food access, and racial equity.” – Eric Deebold

The bill invests heavily in sustainable agriculture research, extension, education, rural development, and urban agriculture programs. It also includes hundreds of millions of dollars to support organizations and programs that primarily serve people of color, to build capacity and train the next generation of scientists, farmers, ranchers, and food system experts. As the effects of climate change accelerate, it is critical that all producers can partner with academics on research that furthers climate change mitigation and adaptation practices in the field.

Additionally, this legislation contains $6 billion to expand support to economically distressed borrowers and underserved farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in high-poverty areas. This includes full and partial debt forgiveness on direct loans, as well as loan modification services to USDA direct and guaranteed borrowers so that they can keep their operations resilient and avoid economic disaster. This is especially critical for those Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) producers who had been notified by USDA that they qualified for debt relief under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a program that has since been held up by numerous lawsuits across the country. As their farms hang in the balance, this bill represents hope that many will be able to keep their farms afloat. The bill gives additional assistance to historically underserved producers living in high-poverty areas to address credit barriers, land access and a lack of technical help. Finally, farmers or ranchers who experienced past discrimination in USDA credit programs can apply for additional assistance of up to $500,000.

As Eric Deebold, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (of which Farm Aid is a member), puts it, “Even with the steep cuts to the budget reconciliation bill necessary to secure its passage, Congress is making a transformative investment in conservation, agricultural research, rural development, food access, and racial equity.” The time is now to invest to address these urgent needs in agriculture. Farm Aid urges Congress to pass this bill with the spending for these crucial investments intact.

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