A group of white American farmers is suing the government for race-based discrimination. The group is alleging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s loan forgiveness program for farmers of color violates the Constitution.
There are two lawsuits in total. One has been filed by former President Trump employees now working at American First Legal on behalf of Sid Miller in a private capacity. Miller also serves as the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture.
“All of my clients just want to be treated equally,” Daniel Lennington lead attorney for the lawsuit said to Yahoo Finance. “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 say the program only excludes the farmers because of the color of their skin.
In other words, their white privilege won’t help them reap the benefits of a program designed to support disenfranchised members of society. Attorneys are representing farmers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Ohio.
The program, which was introduced in Biden’s COVID relief package, sets aside $4 billion for “socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, or forest landowners. The loan was the culmination of a decades-long effort from the Pigford settlement of 1999. The USDA admitted many years of bias against Black farmers in its loan policy and other assistance programs.
Speaking at the White House earlier this month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the program.
“I think there is a very legitimate reason for doing what we’re doing,” he told reporters. “I think it has to be complemented with additional steps. An equity commission to take a look at whether or not there are systemic barriers that need to be removed at the department.”
Vislack added the department was “taking a look at how we might be able to create better technical assistance.” He also promised “better access to land, better access to markets for socially disadvantaged producers and for local and regional food production,” he said. “We’re going to proceed forward.”
According to The Guardian, as of April 2019, there are roughly 45,500 Black farmers. This number accounts for just 1.3% of the population. Those farmers own a mere 0.52% of farmland in the country and make less than $40,000 a year (compared to white farmers who make over $190,000).
President of the National Black Farmers Association, John W. Boyd told Yahoo Finance that the filing “shows the troubling pattern, and it looks like we’re going back in time in history where they just don’t want Blacks to have anything and be willing to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s it.”
No action has yet begun to forgive the loans.
A USDA spokesman addressed the lawsuit, stating that the agency is reviewing the complaint and working with the Department of Justice.
“During this review, we will continue to implement the debt relief to qualified socially disadvantaged borrowers under the American Rescue Plan Act,” the spokesman says.