Judge stops loan forgiveness program for Black farmers, citing discrimination

The program was already on temporary hold due to a restraining order in a separate suit from another white farmer

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A loan forgiveness program for Black farmers written into President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan in March has been put on hold by a federal judge, who wrote that the program is discriminatory. 

The program set aside $4 billion in funds to forgive some agricultural debt for farmers of color, as well as create grants, training and educational opportunities. However, Judge Marcia Morales Howard of the Middle District Court of Florida ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by a white farmer named Scott Wynn, who alleged that he has loan debt and also experienced financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Howard wrote that “it appears that in adopting Section 1005’s strict race-based debt relief remedy Congress moved with great speed to address the history of discrimination, but did not move with great care.”

Handy Kennedy, founder of AgriUnity cooperative, counts his cows on HK Farms in Cobbtown, Georgia. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The judge wrote the Department of Agriculture could continue to prepare to deliver the debt relief until the program is deemed “constitutionally permissible.”

The program was already on a temporary hold due to a restraining order in a separate lawsuit from another white farmer in Wisconsin. However, the new order will grant a nationwide injunction. 

Corey Lea, a beef and pork rancher in Tennessee, told The Washington Post he believes the program is fair, given past disparities in previous assistance. “White farmers received nearly $9.7 billion in pandemic relief in October of 2020, and socially disadvantaged farmers received less than 1 percent of that money,” he said.

A White House spokesperson told the outlet that, in part, the American Rescue Plan was intended to address economic damage to socially disadvantaged borrowers. 

Handy Kennedy, founder of AgriUnity cooperative, prepares feed for his cows on HK Farms last month in Cobbtown, Georgia. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

According to The Post report, “Black farmers in America have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland over the past century, a result of what agricultural experts and advocates for Black farmers say is a combination of systemic racism, biased government policy and social and business practices that have denied Black Americans equitable access to markets.” 

Experts had previously called the bill the most significant legislation for Black farmers since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

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