Approximately 16,000 disadvantaged farmers, also known as minority farmers, were to start receiving about $ 4 billion in federal debt relief under the American Bailout Plan Act of 2021. The funds were to help pay off approximately 20,000 agricultural loans that were provided by the USDA or private firms to blacks, indigenous peoples, Hispanics and other minority farmers. However, these payments were suspended just days before they were due to start.
In a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty representing 12 white farmers in nine states that are ineligible for the program, U.S. District Court Judge William S. Grisbach ordered the USDA to cease and deny loans solely based on Premises the race will run on June 10th.
In accordance with his 10-page ruling, Griesbach stated that the plaintiffs are “completely excluded from participation on the basis of race and are thus discriminated against by their government.”
“The government has created a program that distributes government benefits solely on the basis of the farmer’s race, and the Supreme Court precedent makes it abundantly clear that the government cannot do this without a very good reason,” said Luke Berg, deputy adviser to Wisconsin. The Institute for Law and Freedom told NPR News.
Although the USDA was scheduled to respond to the temporary restraining order by Friday, the agency has already promised to fight the order, telling Politico that “the agency will continue to vigorously defend our ability to comply with this Congressional act and provide US debt cancellation. socially unprotected borrowers ”.
In May, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote an article for USA Today in which he said that “For black and minority farmers, the American bailout plan could become one of the most important civil rights legislation in decades.”
Beginning in 1965, when the US Civil Rights Commission first investigated the issue, the USDA has been found to discriminate against blacks and other minority farmers in loans and environmental payments for decades. Since then, the USDA has a long and documented reputation for discriminating against disadvantaged farmers even as recently as last year.
Although the USDA has extended billions of dollars in COVID-19 aid to farmers, the bulk of that funding went mainly to white farmers, while colored farmers received only 1% of the aid. This is because the USDA’s aid system is set up so that the largest farms with the most crops receive aid first. Consequently, since white farmers tend to own a large amount of land, they tend to get the funds first.
In an interview with PBS Arkansas Week in Arkansas, Dr. Dawayne Goldmon, an Arkansas farmer and senior adviser on racial justice to the United States Secretary of Agriculture, said that “In the agricultural business … every generation relies on the success of the community. previous generation. In the case of black farmers, unfortunately, every generation must suffer from discrimination that has been passed on to the previous generation. ”
When asked if he believed this debt relief could be seen as a form of reverse discrimination, Goldmon said he disagreed. “Backward discrimination would be a bigger problem if there was no case of discrimination at all. … There have been several class action lawsuits that have proven a tragic history of discrimination against colored farmers. ”
Goldmon continued, “Congress has mandated us to help these farmers who have historically been under-provided, discriminated against, denied access to resources, finance, and more. We have been tasked with addressing these issues, and it’s a two-step process. Pay off your debt and restore trust and confidence. “
Regarding the interim restraining order imposed on the USDA prohibiting the disbursement of funds, the agency issued a statement opposing the court’s decision.
“We respectfully disagree with this interim order and the USDA will continue to vigorously defend our ability to comply with this congressional act and provide debt relief to disadvantaged borrowers,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, a USDA spokesman said qualified minority borrowers should continue to file their paperwork while the case is pending. “… the USDA will continue to accept and process these letters so that when the interim order is lifted, the USDA will be ready to provide the debt relief mandated by Congress.”