judge suspends race-based farm debt payments | Agriculture News
A federal judge issued a ruling on June 10 that ended the Joe Biden administration’s plan to repay farm loan debt to “socially disadvantaged” farmers using race as an eligibility criterion. The decision came in response to a complaint filed by 12 plaintiffs from multiple states represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty alleging that set-aside was unconstitutionally discriminatory on the basis of race. The plaintiffs operate a farm in Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky.
As part of the US $ 1.9 trillion US bailout bill of 2021 passed by Congress and enacted on March 11, Congress set aside about $ 4 billion to reimburse up to 120% of costs. changes in US Department of Agriculture farm loans and loans to “socially disadvantaged” farmers.
The program was designed, say its promoters, to offset the past effects of discrimination that disadvantaged farmers of color. On the US bailout website, those eligible for loan relief are defined as “one or more of the following: Black or African American, American Indian, Native of Alaska, Hispanic or Latin, Asian or Pacific Islander “. About 17,000 farmers in the 50 states are eligible for the debt cancellation program.
Some of the money has already been distributed; the plaintiffs requested an emergency injunction to stop the program before the rest of the money was distributed. US District Judge William Griesbach, appointed by George W. Bush, wrote that an emergency injunction was warranted because plaintiffs risked being harmed by the program and likely to prevail on the merits during a full hearing. “Although defendants say Section 1005 is intended to help socially disadvantaged farmers affected by COVID-19, it does not provide relief based on losses suffered during the pandemic. Instead, the only consideration in determining whether a farmer’s or rancher’s loans should be canceled completely is the person’s race or national origin.
Griesbach said based on the law and past precedents, any law meant to address past discrimination must pass a three-pronged test. First, they must target a specific episode of past discrimination, and not just assert widespread discrimination. Second, it must be shown that the discrimination was intentional. Third, the government “must have played a role” in the discrimination it seeks to remedy.
“The obvious response to a government agency that claims it continues to discriminate against farmers on the basis of race or national origin is to order it to stop,” Griesbach wrote. “This is not about ordering him to intentionally discriminate against other people on the basis of their race and national origin.”
Through a spokesperson, the USDA said, “We do not agree with this temporary order and the USDA will continue to vigorously defend our ability to implement this law of Congress and to provide debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers. When the temporary order is lifted, the USDA will be ready to provide debt relief authorized by Congress. “