Federal judge suspends loan cancellation program for farmers of color

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A federal judge suspended a loan cancellation program for farmers of color in response to a lawsuit alleging the program discriminated against white farmers.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Milwaukee on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order 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 Islander farmers. President Joe Biden’s administration created loan cancellation program as part of its $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 pandemic backup plan.

“It’s a big deal for us,” John Boyd, Jr., president of the National Association of Black Farmers, CBS MoneyWatch told CBS in March when the federal spending program was approved. “We see this as a great opportunity to help thousands of people.”


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White farmers “are not even eligible to apply”

The curator Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty complaint filed in April, arguing that white farmers are not eligible for the program, which amounts to a violation of their constitutional rights. The company sued on behalf of 12 farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky.

“If plaintiffs were eligible for the loan forgiveness allowance, they would have the opportunity to make additional investments in their property, expand their farms, purchase equipment and supplies, and otherwise support their families and their families. local communities, ”the lawsuit said. “Because complainants are not even eligible to apply to the program purely on the basis of their race, they have been denied equal protection of the law and have therefore suffered prejudice.”

The case seeks a court order prohibiting the USDA from applying racial classifications to determine eligibility for loan modifications and payments under the stimulus package. She also seeks unspecified damages.

A story of unfair treatment

Minority farmers have argued for decades that they have been unfairly denied agricultural loans and other government assistance. Federal agriculture officials in 1999 and 2010 settled lawsuits filed by black farmers accusing the agency of discriminating against them.

The history of discrimination against black farmers in the United States dates back to 1920, according to Modern Farmer magazine. That year, the United States had nearly one million black farmers, up from 45,000 today. Black farmers also tend to earn less money and own less land than white farmers, the publication notes. And obtaining loans and grants has long been more difficult for black farmers than for their white counterparts, according to government reports.

According to the Environmental Working Group, almost all of the $ 9.2 billion bailout provided to farmers last year by the Trump administration went to white farmers. White farmers received $ 6.7 billion in payments from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, while black farmers received $ 15 million and Latino farmers $ 100 million, EWG calculated based on data from the US Department of Agriculture.


Stimulus funds to help black farmers

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Spotlight on USDA Lending Practices

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are calling for more transparency from the USDA as a way to eliminate discriminatory practices.

Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, both Democrats, this week introduced a law requiring the USDA to track and make public information about the race and gender of all recipients of the drug. the agency’s agricultural aid. The bill, titled Farm Subsidy Transparency Act, would also require disclosure of farm subsidies, farm loans, crop insurance, disaster relief and funding through the food aid program. against coronaviruses, as well as assistance provided through conservation and forestry programs.

“It is extremely important that we stop any discriminatory lending behavior at USDA,” Rush, who was born on a farm, said in a press release. “To do this, we need to shine a light on USDA lending practices so that we can clearly see, understand and correct existing inequalities.”


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