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Arkansas Black Farmers seek equal access to USDA financial assistance



Pine Bluff, Arkansas – At the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Wednesday, a significant gathering took place as the Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFFA) met with hundreds of black farmers from Arkansas. The primary objective of this meet was to disseminate information on the financial assistance available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Addressing Historic Inequalities

The U.S Congress has earmarked a staggering $2.2 billion in financial support through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2021. This fund aims to aid farmers, ranchers, and forest owners who were subjected to discrimination by the USDA prior to January 2021. In a candid admission on their webpage, the USDA acknowledges past shortcomings, stating that they haven’t historically ensured equal access to their programs and services for all clientele.

However, Thomas Burrell, the president of BFFA, highlighted concerns about the application process for these funds. With an application that spans 40 pages, Burrell expressed fears that the complexity might exclude deserving members of the African American community. “We believe this 40-page application is going to succeed in denying the African American community…,” he remarked. The BFFA has even taken legal measures, filing a motion in federal court labeling the application as ‘flimsical’ and ‘arbitrary’.

Voices of the Farmers

Echoing the concerns of many, Jaquelyn Wilber Smith, a farmer from Grady, Arkansas, spoke about the challenges she faced while applying for farm loans. Smith candidly shared a disheartening instance where she was informed unofficially that her loan denial was due to her race. The intricacies of the application, laden with tricky questions, are daunting. Smith emphasized that many older farmers might lack the support system to navigate through it.

Jimmy L. Jackson brought attention to another concerning aspect of the application – its inability to allow individuals to apply on behalf of their deceased kin. This point resonated with many attendees, as Burrell noted that a significant portion of the gathering was seeking financial aid for their departed loved ones. “That’s our legacy,” said Jackson, highlighting the struggles of past generations.

Burrell echoed Jackson’s sentiment, stating, “This is un-American.” He stressed the essence of generational wealth, emphasizing the importance of bequeathing something to future generations, even if it’s the proceeds from a lawsuit.

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