Two federal judges have blocked minority farmers from receiving billions of dollars in debt-relief payments.
Judges Marcia Morales Howard and William Griesbach say the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act is unconstitutional because it is not race-neutral.
The orders come after white farmers and institutions filed lawsuits because they couldn’t receive the funding.
In her ruling, Howard argued that minority farmers could apply for the debt-relief funding — even ones who have had profitable years.
“Yet a small White farmer who is on the brink of foreclosure can do nothing to qualify for debt relief,” Howard wrote in the ruling, adding that she believes Congress is using discrimination to try to solve years of discrimination.
The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act was introduced in February. The legislation promised $4 billion to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to forgive loans given to Black farmers and ranchers. An additional $1 billion was to be distributed for grants, college scholarships, and other endeavors.
“Congress can implement race-neutral programs to help farmers and ranchers in need of financial assistance, such as requiring individual determinations of disadvantaged status or giving priority to loans of farmers and ranchers that were left out of the previous pandemic relief funding,” Judge Griesbach wrote a ruling. “But it cannot discriminate on the basis of race.”
A 1982 U.S. Commission of Civil Rights report reveals that Black farmers were not prioritized by the USDA and that the department “may have hindered the efforts of Black small farm operators to remain a viable force in agriculture.”
According to a 2019 reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Black farmers are less likely to receive loans because lenders think they are “more likely to operate smaller, lower-revenue farms, have weaker credit histories, or lack clear title to their agricultural land.”
Minority farmers were set to start receiving payments this month.