A federal judge has stopped a lending program for colored farmers in response to a lawsuit alleging that the program discriminates against white farmers.
Milwaukee District Judge William Griesbach issued an injunction on Thursday suspending the program for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The program pays up to 120% of direct or guaranteed farm loan balances for Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian American, or Pacific Islanders. President Joe Biden’s administration launched the loan-making program as part of their $ 1.9 trillionRelief plan.
“This is a big deal for us,” John Boyd, Jr., President of the, CBS told MoneyWatch in March when the federal spending package was approved. “We see this as a great opportunity to help thousands.”
White farmers “not eligible to apply at all”
The Conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Libertyin April, white farmers failed to argue for the program in violation of their constitutional rights. The company sued 12 farmers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky.
“If plaintiffs were eligible for the lending benefit, they would have the opportunity to make additional investments in their property, expand their farms, buy equipment and supplies, and otherwise support their families and local communities,” the lawsuit said. “Since the plaintiffs are not eligible to apply for the program because of their race alone, they have been denied the same legal protection and have suffered damage as a result.”
The motion is filing for an injunction prohibiting the USDA from using racial rankings in determining eligibility for loan changes and recovery plan payments. It also demands unspecified damages.
A story of unfair treatment
Minority farmers have claimed for decades that they have been unfairly denied agricultural loans and other government aid. Federal agricultural officials settled complaints from black farmers in 1999 and 2010 accusing the agency of discriminating against them.
The history of discrimination against black farmers in the US dates back to 1920, according to Modern Farmer magazine. There were nearly a million black farmers in the US that year, compared to 45,000 today. Black farmers also tend to make less money and own less land than white farmers, the publication said. And according to government reports, it has long been more difficult for black farmers to get loans and grants than their white counterparts.
Almost all of the $ 9.2 billion rescue packages the Trump administration provided to farmers last year went to white farmers, according to the Environmental Working Group. White farmers received $ 6.7 billion in payments from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, while black farmers received $ 15 million and Latin American farmers received $ 100 million, according to calculations by the EEC based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture .
Spotlight on USDA Lending Practices
Meanwhile, some lawmakers are pushing for more transparency from the USDA to root out discriminatory practices.
Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, both Democrats, passed law this week requiring the USDA to track and publicly disclose information about the race and gender of all recipients of agricultural assistance from the agency. The bill, known as the Farm Subsidy Transparency Act, would also require disclosure of farm subsidies, farm loans, crop insurance, disaster relief and funding through the Coronavirus Food Assistance program, as well as support from conservation and forest programs.
“It is critical that we stop any remaining discriminatory lending behavior with the USDA,” said Rush, who was born on a farm, in a press release. “To do this, we need to put the USDA’s lending practices in a bright light so that we can clearly identify, understand and address existing injustices.”