A federal judge on Thursday halted the USDA loan forgiveness program exclusive to farmers of color, saying that a group of white farmers who have sued for discrimination over being banned from the government program have a good chance of winning.
NBC News reported that Judge William Griesbach of Wisconsin’s Eastern District, issued an order placing the program on a temporary hold, wherein he wrote 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.”
Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) — who represents the white farmers — said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The Court recognized that the federal government’s plan to condition and allocate benefits on the basis of race raises grave constitutional concerns and threatens our clients with irreparable harm.”
He added, “The Biden administration is radically undermining bedrock principles of equality under the law.”
The judge’s move stops the USDA from issuing debt relief payments to thousands of minority farmers, despite the agency vowing to begin their payouts this month.
In reaction to the decision, USDA spokesman Matt Herrick said in a statement:
“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.”
The Washington Post explained:
The assistance program, which was passed by the Senate in March as part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus relief package, sought to correct long-standing disadvantages faced by Black, Latino, and other minority farmers in getting loans from banks and the government.
The program is open to any producer who is black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian American or Pacific Islander, yet white producers do not qualify.
But shortly after it passed, WILL sued on behalf of five farmers from four states, saying the program for “socially disadvantaged” farmers is unconstitutional because it is race-based.
Since then, seven more plaintiffs have joined that suit, and separate legal challenges on behalf of other white farmers have also been filed against the program.