White farmers say they have been blocked from receiving adequate aide in the recent COVID-19 loan forgiveness program because they’re white.
Two groups of farmers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Ohio, announced that they are suing the federal government due to Black, indigenous and farmers of color who will be eligible for $4 billion in debt relief and $1 billion in other education and grants. The aid, provided in the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, was included in the COVID-19 relief bill earlier this year.
The historic legislative attempts to resolve some of the generations of discrimination non-white farmers faced. This disenfranchisement includes Black farmers locked out of receiving loans from the USDA. So gross was the mistreatment, that a band of Black farmers sued and won a discrimination lawsuit in the famous Pigford vs Glickman cases. But, the distribution of monies was too little, and for most, three decades too late.
While Black farmers have been at the forefront in bringing to light racial discrimination from USDA workers, most non-white farmers benefitted from the fight. The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act directs the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to awards farmers of color payment “to each lender of farm loans guaranteed by the Secretary an amount equal to the principal and interest outstanding as of the date of enactment of this Act on all farm loans held by the lender, the borrowers of which are socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, such that the borrowers shall be relieved of the obligation to repay the principal and interest due on those guaranteed farm loans.”
Vilsack also noted in a previous interview with Agdaily that only 0.1 percent of the previous coronavirus relief money went to Black farmers. During the Trump Administration, the contracts of Black farmers in the USDA’s food box program were not renewed. Plus, during the China tradewars, 99 percent of subsidies went to white farmers.
However, the plaintiffs believe this is unfair. The lawsuit states, “Were plaintiffs eligible for the loan forgiveness benefit, 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 local communities. Because plaintiffs are ineligible to even apply for the program solely due to their race, they have been denied the equal protection of the law and therefore suffered harm.”
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed the lawsuit on behalf of the five farmers from four states. The Associated Press says that the USDA plans to move forward with payments to BIPOC farmers.
After years of Black farmers advocating for racial equity, Republican lawmakers — Reps. Tom Tiffany (Wis.) and Burgess Owens (Utah) — announced in April that they are planning to introduce the Agriculture Civil Rights and Equality Act (ACRE Act), a bill prohibiting USDA officials rom discriminating or providing preferential treatment to any person on the basis of race, color, national origin, or sex.
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