Federal Judge Sides With White Farmer Who Said Debt Relief Package for Black Farmers is Unfair, Temporarily Halts Stimulus Package

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A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a stimulus package that forgives agricultural debts to Black farmers and other farmers of color.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard issued a preliminary injunction, halting a part of the loan forgiveness payments and blocking the $4 billion aid package, saying the program’s “rigid, categorical, race-based qualification for relief is the antithesis of flexibility.”

Scott Wynn, a white farmer from Florida, challenged President Joe Biden’s debt relief program in May, saying he faced financial hardship during the pandemic and that the program discriminated against him on the basis of race.

Howard ruled Monday that Wynn had established a “strong likelihood” that the program is a violation of his right to equal protection under the law.

According to Howard, Wynn will likely be successful in demonstrating that the portion of the American Rescue Plan Act that states that debt relief will be provided to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” is unconstitutional.

Howard wrote in her Middle District Court of Florida decision, “Congress also must heed its obligation to do away with governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.” She added 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.”

U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard issued a preliminary injunction halting a part of the loan forgiveness payments and blocking the $4 billion aid package bill to Black farmers. (Photo: FloridaBar.org)

The judge said the U.S. Agriculture Department can continue to move forward with preparing the debt relief program in advance of a ruling on its constitutionality.

The USDA had planned to begin distributing payments to disadvantaged farmers in June for debt relief, grants, training and education.

Some Black agricultural groups had spoken about the package as a form of reparations for Black farmers, who have long since faced federal discrimination, and are disproportionately likely to be disadvantaged.

Over the past century, Black farmers have lost 12 million acres of farmland due to a combination of racism, and discriminatory practices and policies on the part of the government.

White farmers collected nearly 97% of the $9.2 billion in USDA pandemic payments from May through October 2020, according to the Environmental Working Group. On average, white farmers received $3,398 while Black farmers averaged $422.

A Wisconsin judge previously blocked the program following a case brought by a white farmer in the state.

In response to the judge’s ruling, the USDA said it would defend the program. “USDA will continue to forcefully defend our ability to carry out this act of Congress and deliver debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers,” a department spokesperson said in an email to Politico. “When the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be prepared to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress.”

Howard requested Wynn’s lawyers and the Justice Department to move quickly so that a more permanent ruling can be reached, and asked that they submit to her a schedule no later than June 29.



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