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As SCOTUS hears arguments on student loan debt relief, Young Farmers weighs in

As the Supreme Court of the United States hears cases made for and against the Biden Administration’s student debt cancellation program, many of the farmers in our network are anxiously awaiting the relief that they have been promised. Farmers want to be able to get on with the yearly budgeting and planning processes that will bound the potential 2023 holds for young farmers. 

After President Biden announced the relief at the end of August, two lawsuits arguing that the President does not have the authority to enact broad debt relief without Congressional approval blocked its implementation. The injunction that prompted the payment pause came at the close of the 2022 growing season, when most farmers begin to plan and budget for the next season and the following year. Those budgets and plans have been significantly affected by the hold on their approved $10,000-20,000 in debt cancellation.

On Friday, October 21st, a federal appeals court put a temporary hold on Biden’s student debt cancellation program, keeping the government from proceeding with authorizing cancellations during the appellate court’s consideration of the challenge a federal judge in Missouri rejected the day before. “Callous efforts to block student debt relief in the courts have caused tremendous financial uncertainty for millions of borrowers who cannot set their family budgets or even plan for the holidays without a clear picture of their student debt obligations, and it’s just plain wrong,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

Senator Elizabeth Warren [D-MA] published an investigative report on Monday, February 27th titled “Hanging in the Balance: Millions at Risk if the Supreme Court Denies Student Debt Cancellation.” This comprehensive document pulls together information the office has collected and compiled from a nationwide cohort of leading professional organizations and higher education and consumer advocacy groups, which included the National Young Farmers Coalition. The report shares our findings regarding the impacts of the student loan debt crisis that student borrowers all over the U.S. are currently facing, which are now exacerbated by the hold placed on the Biden Administration’s relief program. 

As our 2022 National Young Farmer Survey Report highlights, many young farmers are looking to grow their businesses, but student loan debt stands in the way. Overall, thirty-eight percent of young farmers and ranchers who took our 2022 survey said they currently hold student loans. Sixty-two percent of Black young farmers currently hold student loan debt, and forty-five percent of those student loan borrowers identify their debt as very or extremely challenging. The hold on the student debt cancellation program has hampered the ability for young farmers to see owning farmland as viable in their lifetimes, particularly those who are Black. Twenty percent of young farmers said that the main reason why they did not take out additional loans to support or grow their farm businesses was because of existing student loan debt. 

Difficulty in accessing capital is a major reason why young farmers are leaving agriculture. And, for many, student loan debt directly impacts their ability to access capital. It can be expected that, if not canceled, student debt will undoubtedly cause more farmers to leave the farming industry. Hindering the progress of our country’s architects of future foodways ultimately hinders us all.  

In “The Open-And-Shut Case In Favor Of Student Loan Debt Relief” published by the Alliance for Justice, they highlight that a broad and diverse group of experts from across the political and ideological spectrum have come together in support of the student debt relief program. And this matters greatly because it speaks to the strength of the Biden Administration’s legal position and the necessity of bold sweeping economic relief through debt cancellation. The Supreme Court can and must ensure that millions of working, low- and middle-income Americans will not suffer the consequences of a political desire to strike down this program.

However, if more debt relief is allowed to be implemented, we will see a gradual increase in young, historically burdened farmers who find their path to enter agriculture. This is a matter of growing national concern as our supply chain is widely distributed, and so can be threatened, across the globe. 

Increasing our young farmers’ capacity to participate in building up our food security and our nation’s ability to sustainably feed ourselves domestically is a top priority for success in every sector.
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