USDA disagrees with court order ending minority loan forgiveness program


About 16,000 socially disadvantaged farmers, also known as minority farmers, were expected to start receiving about $ 4 billion in federal debt relief under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The funds were to help to repay approximately 20,000 agricultural loans that had been granted by the United States Department of Agriculture or private companies to black, native, Latino and other minority farmers. However, these payments were suspended just days before their departure.

In a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty representing 12 white farmers from nine states who are not eligible for the program, U.S. District Court Judge William C. Griesbach ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture cease and desist from forgiving loans based solely on race premises last June 10.

According to his 10-page decision, Griesbach said the plaintiffs are “completely excluded from participation on the basis of their race and therefore face discrimination from their government.”

“The government created a program that distributes government benefits based solely on the race of the farmer, and the Supreme Court precedent is very clear that the government cannot do it without a very good reason,” Luke said. Berg, deputy legal counsel for Wisconsin. Institute for Law & Liberty, told NPR News.

Although the USDA has had until Friday to respond to the temporary restraining order, but the agency has already vowed to fight the decision, telling Politico that “the agency will continue to vigorously defend our ability to carry out this act of Congress and provide debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers.

In May, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he said, “For black and minority farmers, the US bailout could be one of the most important laws in the world. civil rights for decades.

Beginning in 1965, when the United States Civil Rights Commission first investigated the matter, the USDA was found to have discriminated against black farmers and other minorities when disbursing funds. loans and conservation payments for decades. As of this point, the USDA has a long documented experience of discriminating against socially disadvantaged farmers, even as recently as last year.

While the USDA distributed billions of dollars in emergency Covid-19 aid to farmers, the bulk of that money went mainly to white farmers, while farmers of color received just 1%. help. This happens because the USDA relief system is set up so that the larger farms with the most production get relief first. Therefore, since white farmers tend to own more land, they tend to get the funds first.

In an interview with the Arkansas PBS Arkansas Week program, Dr. Dewayne Goldmon, an Arkansas farmer and senior racial equity adviser to the US Secretary of Agriculture, said that “in the agricultural sector … each generation builds on the successes of the previous generation. In the case of black farmers, unfortunately, every generation must suffer from the discrimination that was passed down to the previous generation. “

When asked if he thought this debt relief could be seen as a form of reverse discrimination, Goldmon replied that he disagreed. “Reverse discrimination would be more problematic if there hadn’t been the discrimination in the first place. . There have been several class action settlements that have proven a tragic history of discrimination against farmers of color. “

Goldmon went on to say, “We have been mandated by Congress to help those farmers who have been historically underserved, discriminated against, denied access to resources, finances, etc. We have been mandated to address these concerns, and it is a two-step process. Pay off the debt and restore confidence.

Regarding the temporary restraining order placed on the USDA preventing funds from being disbursed, the agency issued a statement opposing the court action.

“We respectfully disagree with this temporary ordinance and the USDA will continue to vigorously defend our ability to implement this law of Congress and provide debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers,” the statement said.

In the meantime, a USDA official said qualified minority borrowers should continue to submit their documents while the case is pending. “… USDA will continue to accept these letters and process them so that when the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be ready to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress.” “

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