Black farmers have been fighting for years to survive and have sought monetary redress from the U.S. government for persistent racial discrimination. After a long wait, federal debt relief was on its way until a lawsuit by a white farmer scuttled the funding. A Florida judge on June 23 blocked the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) from issuing the promised relief payments to Black farmers.
Black farmers have long faced discrimination from the USDA, and their numbers are dwindling. In 1920, the USDA counted 925,708 Black farmers, or about 14 percent of all farmers at the time. By 2017, there were 45,508 Black farmers — roughly 1.3 percent of all 3.4 million U.S. farmers, according to a recent USDA Census of Agriculture.
Florida District Judge Marcia Morales Howard issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by a white farmer alleging that a debt relief program, which was authorized under the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that passed in Congress, discriminates against him because of his race.
The stimulus bill allocated $4 billion toward debt relief and direct payments of up to 120 percent of a “socially disadvantaged” farmer or rancher’s outstanding debt as of Jan. 1, 2021, CNN reported. For the most part, the recipients would have been Black farmers
Judge Howard wrote that the program, which is embedded in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan law, is “significantly likely” to violate the constitutional rights of the plaintiff, a white farmer named Scott Wynn, NBC News reported.
Her order creates a nationwide injunction against the debt-relief program.
Libertarian public interest law firm Pacific Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit in May on behalf of Wynn. “The government can’t allow some people to take part in federal programs while denying others based solely on the color of their skin. The courts have rightfully rejected such discrimination in the past and should do so now,” said Wen Fa, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, in a statement.
Howard’s decision is another legal battle for Black farmers, who were set to receive debt relief assistance this month.
Here are three things you should know.
The recent blocking of the debt relief payments to Blacks farmers is the second halt on the payments. There had been an increase in white farmers complaining the program is racially discriminatory.
Prior to Howard’s order, a Wisconsin judge temporarily blocked the payments in a separate lawsuit from a group of white farmers. That suit argued the USDA’s program discriminates against them and is unconstitutional. There are at least four other lawsuits by white farmers challenging the USDA debt relief program, including in Texas, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Illinois, CNN reported.
The debt relief funds were intended to address historic discriminatory policies. The money was intended as a way to address more than 100 years of discriminatory practices and policies that have disproportionately disadvantaged Black owners of farmland, The Guardian reported.
Historic discrimination in the USDA related to federal farm assistance and lending caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland. This discrimination robbed Black farmers and their families of hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth, said Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
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Republicans including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, criticized the relief program, NBC News reported.
Judge Howard is an appointee of President George W. Bush.
There are other lawsuits against debt relief to Black farmers with claims of discrimination against white farmers, including one in Texas backed by the former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, The Guardian reported.
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