Black farmers are suing the federal government after the Biden administration watered down a proposed $4 billion debt relief program to help people of color in the agricultural sector.
The farmers have not received the aid package after almost 18 months of waiting, as the money has stalled in the courts as white farmers complain that the debt relief infringes on their constitutional rights.
John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association and a plaintiff in the class action lawsuit, said they “broke their promise to black farmers and other farmers of color.”
The program, part of the American Rescue Plan, would be used to pay up to 120 percent of direct or guaranteed agricultural loans for black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian-American or Pacific Islander farmers.
But after white farmers made a fuss about the proposal, it was reworked in August as part of The Inflation Reduction Act and split into two funds.
John Wesley Boyd, Jr., center, president of the National Black Farmer’s Association, said black farmers are suing the Biden government for “breaking their promise”
Biden dropped his original $4 billion plan to help black farmers with debt relief after white farmers filed injunctions alleging discrimination
The original program would have paid up to 120 percent of direct or guaranteed farm loan balances to Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian American or Pacific Islander farmers
A group of 12 farmers from nine states has filed a lawsuit against the USDA, alleging the program exempts white farmers and violates their constitutional rights.
Wisconsin Judge William Griesbach issued a temporary restraining order blocking the loan forgiveness program Biden instituted after saying he wanted to address longstanding inequalities for farmers of color.
Judge Griesbach said the plan failed to provide conclusive examples of recent hardships imposed on minority farmers. He also claimed that by trying to end one type of discrimination, the program ended up creating another.
Now one fund is worth $2 billion and has the same goals as the first proposal: to help farmers who have faced discrimination.
The second fund is now $3 billion going to the Department of Agriculture to pay or amend loans for farmers who have experienced financial hardship, regardless of race.
The lawsuit filed by the black farmers alleges that the plan change is in breach of contracts, and the plaintiffs are now seeking damages.
“This fight is about the country because we’ve lost so much of it,” Boyd said.
Marissa Perry, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said the agency was on board with the original plan but was unable to pay out to black farmers because of three orders from frustrated white farmers.
Despite the agency’s support, they feared that “this lawsuit probably wouldn’t have been resolved for years,” prompting them to back the new plan.
‘The Inflation Reduction Act – thanks to the leadership of Sens. Booker, Warnock, Stabenow, Manchin and Schumer — has repealed these provisions and created something new,” Perry told NBC News.
She also assured that the agency “acted aggressively to carry out these provisions.”
The original program was created in an effort to address the long-standing inequalities that have plagued agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture feared that “this lawsuit probably wouldn’t have been resolved for years,” prompting them to back a new proposal – with less money for black farmers
Wisconsin Judge William Griesbach (pictured) blocked the loan forgiveness program and sided with a group of 12 white farmers who said the program violates their constitutional rights
It was hailed by civil rights groups as the most significant piece of legislation for black farmers since the Civil Rights Act.
About 17,000 farmers of color would qualify for the aid.
Minority farmers have claimed for decades that their agricultural loans and other government support have been unfairly denied.
Federal agricultural officials settled lawsuits from black farmers in 1999 and 2010 accusing the agency of discriminating against them.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said inequality had worsened during the pandemic.
“For generations, socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt,” he said. The Washington Post.
“In addition to the economic pain caused by the pandemic, farmers from socially disadvantaged communities are dealing with a disproportionate share of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, death and economic damage.”
Data from the USDA shows that the number of black farmers has shrunk from one million around a century to 45,000 today.
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