The COVID-19 relief bill includes $5 billion in aid for farmers of color who have long faced discrimination by federal officials

Black farmer depiction
A steel cutout depicting a 19th-century Black farmer rises from a field across the highway from the small community of Nicodemus, Kansas.

  • The COVID-19 relief bill has a $5 billion provision that will forgive debts for farmers of color.
  • Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia led the push for the inclusion of the funding.
  • Farmers of color, and especially Black farmers, faced years of discrimination by federal officials.
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For over a century, Black farmers faced discrimination from the US Department of Agriculture and were largely excluded from federal loans and farm improvement initiatives.

In an effort led by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed on Saturday includes a $5 billion provision that will forgive debts for Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other farmers of color, to enable reforms that will assist farmers with building generational wealth.

Last week, Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator, praised the incorporation of the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act into the COVID-19 bill.

He said that Democrats sought to “ensure equity in our recovery efforts and address longstanding injustices that have left some communities behind for far too long” and pledged that the aid “will not only help farmers of color, but will also lift up the economies of our rural communities working to recover from the economic turndown,” according to Rolling Stone.

Due to systemic racism from both private lenders and government officials, many Black farmers did not have set deed structures that allowed for properties to be passed down in whole, which created fractional ownership setups.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, strongly backed the effort, lauding Warnock for “coming in and and working to embrace this and get it over the line right away,” according to Rolling Stone.

In 1910, 14% of farmers in the US were Black, compared to 2% today, something that Stabenow highlighted.

“When you look at one of the very first ways that there was racial discrimination after slavery was legally abolished, it was lack of support for black farmers,” she said, adding that they “were discriminated against in terms of land ownership.”

Last year, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced “The Justice for Black Farmers Act,” which would allow Black farmers to individually reclaim 160 acres through a system of land grants to address racial discrimination in federal agricultural policy.

“Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” he said in a statement. “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory policies within the USDA [US Department of Agriculture] and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century.”

Booker reintroduced his bill last month with cosponsors Warnock, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

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Senators move to make State Department internships paid

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Sen. Cory Booker just won his second term in November.

  • Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott just introduced a bill to make State Department internships paid.
  • The bill would also help cover transportation and housing costs for State Department interns.
  • It’s aimed at increasing diversity in the intern ranks and part of a larger paid internship movement.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Unpaid internships have come under renewed scrutiny in recent days, as discourse has swirled online over their potential for exploitation and inequity. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even weighed in with a tweet on Monday, writing: “Pay your interns! It’ll improve your operation and make it more diverse and just.”

Now, Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott are taking it one step further, introducing a bipartisan bill to make all State Department internships fully paid. Booker has already been an advocate for paid internships.

In a press release, the duo cites declines in the number of women and Black workers at the State Department.

The bill would make all State Department internships pay the jurisdiction’s minimum wage. It would also provide housing for students who would live outside the US for their internships, as well as for students who work more than 50 miles away from their permanent addresses. In addition, travel for getting to and from those locations would be covered and targeted outreach to minority-serving institutions would be mandated.

“For far too long, the State Department has failed to recruit low-income and students of color within their internship program largely due to it being unpaid,” Booker said in a press release. “Having a diplomatic corps that represents the diverse makeup of the United States will increase the institutional knowledge and capacity of the State Department and improve our image abroad.”

It’s similar to bipartisan legislation recently reintroduced by Rep. Joaquin Castro.  

“This commonsense legislation will make internships at the State Department fairer, more rewarding, and more open to all, and is a crucial part of my focus on ensuring American diplomats reflect the diversity of the American people,” Castro said in a press release.  

There’s a larger movement to make internships paid

Carlos Mark Vera is the executive director of Pay Our Interns, a group that advocates for paid internships and supports Castro’s legislation. Since its founding in 2016, Pay Our Interns has been changing the conversation around getting interns paid. It was previously successful in getting Congress to allocate $31 million to intern compensation – and now it’s chipping away at the State Department with this bill.

“This is, in my opinion, the golden standard,” Vera told Insider. He said a highlight is how it would make pay the minimum wage rather than a stipend, which sometimes are not enough to live on. 

The bill would transition all unpaid internships to paid ones in three years, and has built-in reporting guidelines, for instance on whether interns are going to public or private schools, what their home state is, and other transparency measures. 

The debate over unpaid internships and their potential for exploitation is not a new one. Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds that students of color are underrepresented in paid internships. 

“This is a big deal for us because it could serve as a model for all other federal agencies, which is our goal,” Vera said.

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