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Big things happening in federal policy

We were just preparing to make a post about the Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law by Biden earlier this month when we saw yesterday's news...finally some student debt relief! Borrowers earning under $125,000 will now be eligible for $10,000 of federal student loan debt forgiveness. Those who received Pell grants are eligible for an additional $10,000 of debt forgiveness. Although the new measures don't address the full scope of debt suffered by many borrowers, especially Black borrowers, it is exciting news for many new and beginning farmers who are saddled by unmanageable student debt. As the National Young Farmers Coalition spells out in their student loan campaign website, young farmers are often burdened by student debt that makes the idea of purchasing land or investing in your business impossible. In the latest Young Farmers survey, 36% of respondents reported carrying student debt that inhibits them from building their farm business or accessing additional capital. In our own state, we see talented young farmers jump ship in favor of jobs that will better help them pay down their debts. The problem is almost TWICE AS BAD for Black Young Farmers, 45% of whom report that student debt represents a significant challenge to their farm business. But back to the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law earlier this month: We saw a ton of investment in agriculture and conservation programs in the IRA ($20 billions dollars to be exact). Most of this money is going toward already existing working lands conservation programs, i.e. the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This may give us a leg up when it comes time to discuss the 2023 Farm Bill because many of the programs included in it already have funding through the IRA. The IRA also repeals part of the American Rescue Plan Act that earmarked $4 billion in debt relief for farmers of color, backtracking on their promise to redress harms done by USDA discrimination. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives calls this move "yet another broken promise to America's Black farmers." Instead, the IRA includes $3.1 billion for debt relief to "distressed borrowers." and $2.2 billion for financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who are determined to have experienced discrimination in USDA lending programs before January 1, 2021. Farmers of any race will be able to benefit from these programs. For context on the finances of this, it is estimated that in the 20th century, Black farmers lost $326 billion worth of land in the 20th century due to USDA discrimination. Not to mention the fact that since 1776, the United States has seized over 1.5 billion acres of land from North America's native peoples through genocide, broken treaties, and forced removal. This begs the question: What would it really take to address the scope of this harm? For more on the IRA, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's deep dive, including a nice breakdown of all of the funding: For more on the debt relief for farmers of color, check out this press release by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and this piece by NPR:

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