Seven white farmers filed lawsuits in federal court in Minnesota against the USDA on Wednesday, alleging racial discrimination is contained in the latest federal coronavirus relief package, which directs $ 4 billion to black, Native, Hispanic and American farmers and Asian ranchers.
The $ 1.9 trillion Rescue Plan for America, signed by President Joe Biden in March, contains a clause that requires the USDA to pay “socially disadvantaged” farmers 120% of the balance of their loans issued or secured by the agency.
For an industry that runs on government debt, a loan forgiveness plus a check for 20% of the balance sheet is a huge surprise for thousands of non-white farmers.
The funding was aimed at eradicating widespread racial discrimination in the federal government’s agricultural loan program, which for generations has denied people of color access to critical capital to sustain and expand agricultural operations.
“For generations, marginalized farmers have struggled to achieve complete success due to systemic discrimination and the debt cycle … The American bailout plan ensures that we get the economy back on track for everyone, especially those who have been marginalized and suffering. who was hurt. overlooked or overlooked in the past, ”said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who appeared as a defendant in the lawsuit when the American Rescue Plan was adopted.
The federal government faced dozens of discrimination lawsuits and agreed in 2010 pay black farmers $ 1.25 billion settle a lawsuit against allegations of discrimination in the USDA farm loan program.
But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who argue that they are otherwise eligible for the loan forgiveness program, except that they are white, argue that the federal government cannot discriminate against people of the same race, even if the intent is to correct discrimination in relation to other racial groups.
They argue that the way to stop discrimination is to stop discriminating.
The loan forgiveness program faced backlash nationwide, with a federal judge in Florida. ruling last month it stopped a program nationwide in response to a lawsuit filed there with the backing of America First Legal, a non-profit organization founded earlier this year by former Donald Trump aide Stephen Miller and former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
In issuing an injunction, Judge Morales Howard expressed sympathy for the program, calling its intention “commendable,” but wrote, “Congress must also uphold its commitment to end government-imposed racial discrimination.”
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Steven Nuest, owner of Nuest Farms in Stevens County, filed a lawsuit in Minnesota; Kaylene Dalstead, Arrow D Rancher in Pembina County, North Dakota; Chad Walter, co-owner of the Walter Brothers family farm in Brown County, Minnesota; Kevin and Lynel Vetch of Todd County, Minnesota; and Jonathan and Samantha Camm from Roseau County, Minnesota.