The suspension of loans is suspended
MILWAUKEE – A federal judge has 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, 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 the loan cancellation program as part of its covid-19 pandemic relief plan.
Emily Newton, the senior lawyer representing the US Department of Agriculture in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to an email Friday seeking comment on the restraining order.
“The Court recognized that the federal government’s plan to condition and award benefits on the basis of race raises serious constitutional issues and threatens our clients with irreparable harm,” said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which filed the lawsuit, the Journal Sentinel told.
In the months since Congress included roughly $ 4 billion in the last stimulus bill to cancel loans to minority farmers, thousands of them have been pushing to finally see the money. The USDA has promised to start repaying the loans this month.
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.
“Over the past 100 years, policies have been implemented that have specifically distorted in a way that disadvantages socially disadvantaged producers,” said US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “There is no better example than the Covid relief efforts. Billions of dollars have gone to white farmers because the system is structured in a way that gives them significant benefits.”
But the program, which was opposed by 49 GOP senators, was quickly challenged in court.
The Wisconsin Institute filed a lawsuit in April arguing that white farmers are not eligible, which amounts to a violation of their constitutional rights. The company sued on behalf of 12 farmers in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Among them was Adam Faust, a double amputee and owner of a dairy farm near Chilton, Wis.
“There absolutely should be no federal money going anywhere just based on race,” Faust told The Sentinel Journal.
The lawsuit identifies the claimant from Arkansas as Lori L. Watkins. She was added as a plaintiff in a May 19 amendment to the original trial.
The lawsuit reads: “Complainant Lori L. Watkins raises chickens, cattle, sheep and goats on a 100-acre farm in southwest Arkansas. Ms. Watkins’ primary business is raising and sell around 500,000 broilers annually. [Farm Service Agency]-direct loans. Ms. Watkins is also eligible for the ARPA Section 1005 loan forgiveness program. [American Rescue Plan Act]except that it’s white. “
In April, former adviser to President Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, formed the America First Legal Foundation to sue in Texas on behalf of Sid Miller, a white farmer who is also Texas Agriculture Commissioner. The lawsuit claimed that the USDA program “disrupts our common progress towards a more perfect union.”
The Wisconsin group’s lawsuit noted that white farmers could make additional investments in their property, expand their farms, and purchase equipment and supplies if they were eligible for the loan forgiveness benefit.
“Because plaintiffs are not even eligible to apply to the program purely on the basis of their race, they have been denied the equal protection of the law and have therefore suffered prejudice,” according to the lawsuit.
Information for this article was provided by Associated Press staff, Andrea Salcedo of the Washington Post, and Stephen Steed of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.