Court Temporarily Halts $4B Federal Loan Relief Program for Black Farmers

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A federal judge in Wisconsin has ordered a temporary halt to a $4 billion federal loan relief program created to support Black farmers and farmers of color.

Judge William Griesbach found that the white farmers “are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim” that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “use of race-based criteria in the administration of the program violates their right to equal protection under the law.”

Last month, TheHub.News reported that a group of white American farmers had filed a lawsuit against the government for race-based discrimination. According to the lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ‘s loan forgiveness program for farmers of color violates the Constitution.

“All of my clients just want to be treated equally,” Daniel Lennington, lead attorney for the lawsuit, said to Yahoo Finance at the time. “They’re not looking for any special treatment. If there is a loan forgiveness program, they want it to be open to everyone, regardless of race.”

The farmers griped that the program only excludes the farmers because of the color of their skin.

The Department of Agriculture has vowed to appeal the order.

“We respectfully disagree with this temporary order and USDA will continue to forcefully defend our ability to carry out this act of Congress and deliver debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers. When the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be prepared to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress,” Matt Henrick told NBC News.

The Guardian reports that as of April 2019, there are roughly 45,500 Black farmers. This number accounts for just 1.3% of the population. Those farmers own just 0.52% of farmland in the country and make less than $40,000 a year (compared to white farmers who make over $190,000).

Under USDA’s debt relief program, Black, Native American, Alaskan Native, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic and Latino farmers qualify for payments of up to 120% of their outstanding USDA loans. The loan also covers any taxes owed on the loans.

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