Litigation Intensifies Over USDA Loan Debt Relief for Minority Farmers

The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has filed a similar complaint in Texas regarding the loan program. This case also now has other farmers joining it and the group sponsoring the lawsuit, America First Legal, has also sought a preliminary injunction. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ordered the USDA to respond to the case by Friday, June 11.

The Association of American Indian Farmers and the National Black Farmers Association have also filed joint submissions in the Wisconsin and Texas cases. The groups oppose the injunctions against the repayment of the USDA loan. The groups argue that the court must now assess the impact on socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers by delaying any relief they were supposed to receive under the program.

At least three other cases have also been filed against the USDA in Florida, Tennessee and Wyoming, also seeking an injunction against the department to move forward.

The loan repayment program follows the US bailout adopted in March which included a provision specifically providing for debt relief of up to 120% for farmers receiving USDA loans who are defined as socially disadvantaged according to a 1990 definition created by Congress that includes African farmers. Americans, Latinos or Hispanics, Native Americans or Native Alaskans, of Asian descent, Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders. Caucasian women, who have been eligible to apply for loans as socially disadvantaged since 1992, are not included in debt relief under the provision passed by Congress in March.

The debt relief was prompted by legislation originally introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, DN.J., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Who championed the Justice for Black Farmers Act to address long-standing issues of discrimination by the USDA that left thousands of black farmers with unpaid loan debts to the FSA. The debt relief provision stipulated that USDA would pay all outstanding debts for USDA direct and guaranteed loans for socially disadvantaged farmers effective January 1, 2021.

A DTN review of FSA loan debt showed that socially disadvantaged farmers had $ 2.67 billion in loan debt as of December 31, 2020, as well as $ 414.9 million in past due debt.

Looking at all of the Farm Service Agency’s loans and loan guarantees, there were 144,802 total borrowers at the end of 2020 with a total outstanding amount of $ 31.7 billion. Republican members of the House agriculture committee had raised concerns during a hearing on the bill that if the USDA loses a lawsuit then the department would be required to repay all those loans.

In an editorial written last week in USA Today, Wisconsin dairy farmer Christopher Baird – one of the plaintiffs in the case – wrote about his 80-acre farm and the 50 to 60 Jersey cows he treats. in Crawford County, Wisconsin. He noted that if the loan forgiveness program was based on criteria other than race, then he would be entitled to nearly $ 200,000 in federal loan forgiveness, plus 20%.

“There is an argument for canceling the loan for individuals, depending on individual circumstances or individual suitability,” Baird co-wrote in the editorial. “But making this broader eligibility based on race, just skin color, is no relief from COVID-19 and it has no place in government. It is the very problem that “He claims to try to solve. It’s using racism against the past racism. It’s not fair. Most of us have learned as young children the phrase” two wrongs don’t make a right; it is truly disappointing that our leaders have forgotten such a basic lesson. ”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack argued that USDA disbursed tens of billions of dollars in COFOG aid last year – $ 30.7 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service – but that minority farmers received only 1% of this aid. Vilsack wrote in his own column in May: “The reason the payments have gone so heavily to white farmers is that the system is so against farmers of color. Most farm programs are based on the size of a farm and its production history.

Op-ed: Joe Biden’s COVID debt relief for farmers does not apply to white farmers. It’s wrong. https://news.yahoo.com/…

Analysis of loan totals for socially disadvantaged farmers: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Vilsack op-ed in USA Today https://www.usatoday.com/…

Chris Clayton can be contacted at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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