Black Americans were, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a major force in agriculture. Since then, policies have systematically pushed black farmers out of American agriculture, and kept them out. A new invoice by Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, called the Justice for Black Farmers Act, seeks to change that.

Black farm owners have lost 98% of their land, or some 12 million acres, in the past hundred years. After the Great Depression, the New Deal provided loans and grants to help farmers keep their land, but the people responsible for distributing this aid were white, and black farmers were often denied loans and excluded from the process. The machinations of government agricultural agencies were often opaque and ignored by the general public, and the great dispossession of black farmers continued steadily under the radar.

This discrimination continues today; a recent study counter found that the USDA heavily misrepresented the numbers under the Obama administration to give the impression that black farmers were experiencing a renaissance. Instead, black farmers received a much lower proportion of federal funds than white farmers per person. Allegations of discrimination were largely ignored and black farmers faced foreclosures at a rate six times higher than white farmers.

The new bill aims to address some of these issues. As reported by Mother Jones, the bill would spend $8 billion a year buying land on the open market, to be given to black farmers, especially small farmers (there is a maximum of 160 acres per grant). This money would also be used to increase funding for agricultural programs at historically black colleges and universities; thanks to an invoice from 1890HBCUs have had significantly limited funding compared to many non-HBCU land-grant schools, and a 2013 study found that even today, HBCUs receive significantly less funding than white schools.

There are also funds for nonprofits and other groups that help new farmers get started, which is a major barrier to entry for the new farmers this country desperately needs. (The average American farmer is 58 years old and rising.) And there would be a new body founded, a program devoted to inserting disadvantaged young adults into USDA-funded apprenticeships.

The Justice for Black Farmers Act alone would not erase racism at the USDA, but observers say it could be a good start to righting some of the agency’s past wrongs. As to whether the bill might actually pass through Congress, that’s not easy to say; this is a Democrat-drafted bill, and the Democrats may not hold a majority (or a 50/50 split plus the Vice President to break a tie) in the Senate depending on the election result of January in Georgia.