Why Farmers Fight the USDA Loan Forgiveness Program

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IN American Rescue Plan ActThe law, signed in March, depended on the right to a loan forgiveness based on one characteristic: race. It states that minority farmers are automatically entitled to 120 percent of their agricultural loans; white farmers are excluded, no matter how dire their circumstances. Secretary of Agriculture Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-School Programs Help Schools Prepare Healthier Foods NIGHT MONEY: House Ready to Pass Debt Cap Law MORE proclaimed that the law is aimed at “systemic discrimination.” In other words, the Department of Agriculture believes that the way to end discrimination is to authorize its escalation.

Last week, a federal judge in Florida, hearing a court appeal against the USDA plan filed by farmer Scott Winn, issued a preliminary injunction stop the loan forgiveness program, citing serious constitutional problems.

The reality is that farming is hard work for almost everyone, regardless of race. Wynne, who grows sweet potatoes and corn and raises cattle on his land in northern Florida, has about $ 300,000 in government debt on a loan for his small farm. He suffered losses due to the pandemic and was very eager to apply for support under the loan forgiveness program until he learned that he would not be eligible due to his race.

Donated by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), it filed a federal lawsuit challenge the USDA program as discriminatory. He did not understand how the federal government could openly discriminate against people on the basis of race.

The Wynne court ruling admits that the program violates the constitutional principle of equality before the law. The judge made it clear that Wynn is likely to succeed on the merits of his claim that racial forgiveness of loans is clearly discriminatory.

IN Farm Loan Forgiveness Program The court noted that it “is not related to an attempt to rectify any particular case of past discrimination”. In contrast, while a white farmer is not eligible, a minority farmer “who has applied for and received the only agricultural loan he or she has ever requested, on terms equivalent to or even more favorable than those given to others farmers are entitled to a debt write-off of up to 120 percent. … ”

Quite right: equality before the law is a fundamental American principle. It requires the government to treat people as individuals and not as members of racial groups. For example, the government may forgive loans depending on the individual circumstances of the farmer, such as the economic losses he personally suffered during the pandemic. Whether such a program is good policy is a matter of controversy, but it does not threaten a farmer’s right to equal justice under the law.

Although the USDA’s attitude towards people as members of their racial groups affects thousands of farmers, its impact on the law may be even broader than that. We have seen similar programs in other contexts. For years in Hartford, Connecticut, magnetic schools had a racial quota that prohibited students from enrolling in a school that met their educational needs if it would upset the established racial balance. This continued until PLF’s clients – parents of black and Hispanic students – queued up at schools with empty seats – intervened to change the status quo… The context is different, but the lesson is the same: if a government wants to end racial discrimination, it must end racial discrimination.

The civil rights movement of the last century put a well-deserved end to government policies that treated people differently based on their skin color. This malevolent idea is equally pernicious when wrapped in soothing rhetoric about equality and social justice.

It is time to restore equal treatment of farmers by the government and end these discriminatory programs before they further damage the principle of equality before the law.

Wen Fa lawyer with Pacific Legal Fund, a non-profit legal organization that defends the freedoms of Americans when they are threatened with abuse of power and abuse.



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