USDA defends race-based loans after white farmers sue

Friday, May 7, 2021
 | 
Chris Woodward, Billy Davis (OneNewsNow.com)

USDA logoA group of white farmers who are suing the United States Dept of Agriculture over a race-based loan forgiveness program have been informed where they stand in the eyes of the federal government, but the attorney representing them predicts a court will right the wrong.

"Our clients just want to be treated equally," attorney Dan Lennington says of the five Midwest farmers who filed suit after learning the $4 billion program explicitly leaves out whites.

OneNews Now reported in an April 30 story the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden in March, set aside $4 billion in loan-forgiveness funds for “socially disadvantaged” farmers identified by the USDA as “Black/African American, American Indian or Alaskan native, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian American or Pacific Islander.”

Regarding the program, the USDA website states:

USDA recognizes that socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have faced systemic discrimination with cumulative effects that have, among other consequences, led to a substantial loss in the number of socially disadvantaged producers, reduced the amount of farmland they control, and contributed to a cycle of debt that was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farmer plowing fieldAccess to bank loans is a lifeline for many full-time farmers, regardless of race, to pay for land, day-to-day expenses, and costly equipment. USDA appeared to recognize that reality by ensuring money was set aside to help farms and ranches -- only those owned by minorities -- that are recovering from the business-crippling pandemic.

Reacting to accusations of discrimination, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters this week that USDA has admitted to discriminating against minority farmers in the past, which is likely a reference to the Pigford lawsuit settlements that distributed $1 billion to black farmers in 1999 and again in 2010.

“We have reimbursed people in the past for those acts of discrimination,” Vilsack said, “but we've never absolutely dealt with the cumulative effect.”

To further justify the minority-only program, Vilsack and others have pointed out that white farmers have benefitted most from pandemic relief dollars that were set aside for the ag industry. Yet about 95% of farms and ranches are owned by whites, which means any federal help for farmers would normally benefit white farmers most. 

Lady of JusticeLennington says he has witnessed the federal government cite a racism and discrimination to justify present-day discrimination but, he adds, those arguments fall apart in front a bench of justices.

“This is nothing new,” he says of Secretary Vilsack’s comments.  

If the federal government based a USDA loan program on farmers impacted by COVID-19, or affected by crop-destroying storms, that would be a fair program, the attorney says.  

"Those are all race-neutral issues that may cause a disadvantage to one farmer or another,” he says, “but our clients do not want race to be used as one of the criteria for the program."

 

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