Emergency relief was on the way for Black farmers. Then lawsuits and accusations of “reverse racism” came.
Federal judges in multiple states have stopped the distribution of $4 billion to disadvantaged farmers (including Black farmers) claiming that its discriminatory against white farmers. The latest judgment came courtesy of U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard who issued a preliminary injunction two weeks ago on behalf of Scott Wynn, a white farmer from Jennings, Fla., stating that he faced similar economic problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it isn’t fair that he’s being shut out of emergency aid.
The money in discussion was a part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act’s Farm Loan Forgiveness Program, that looked to forgive the debts to farmers of color who have historically been discriminated against by entities like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and have been denied access to loans and benefits, which have created an uneven playing field.
The deadline for Biden’s Justice Department to appeal one of three preliminary injunctions issued against the bill was on Monday. They let the 60-day deadline for an appeal run out and didn’t challenge the injunction in court at all.
There are 3.4 million farmers in the United States. Fewer than 50,000 of them (1.4%) are Black. Wynn’s focused on the past year-plus for his reasoning behind the lawsuit (according to The Hill, Wynn has a federal loan debt of $300,000). Black farmers are focused on the past several decades.
There were close to one million Black farmers in America at the beginning of the 20th century. But Black farmers lost land usually through an inability to get a farm serial number from the USDA in order to apply for federal loans. While land was passed on from generation to generation. That land was lost when mostly white farmers got the serial numbers required to apply for loans. The Census Bureau states that 80% of all land lost by Black people is a result of this issue.
This is something that National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd, Jr., who founded the group in 1995, wanted to keep in mind.
“It’s a bad situation to be at,” Boyd, whose grandfather was the son of a slave, told the AmNews. “We’re getting loan acceleration where we have to pay the full amount within 30 days. And white farmers were getting loan realizations and debt write offs, so they were the ones getting the relief the whole time. So now I’m reading all of these articles saying some new loan program is discriminatory against whites and that’s not the truth here.”
A part of the aid also includes another $1 billion for technical assistance and setting up an equity commission for farmers who have been discriminated against. But that’s not being held up in court.
And yet, the farmers haven’t received that money either.
“So there’s a billion dollars that’s not tied up in any court or have any legal ramifications where (U.S. Secretary of Agriculture) Tom Vilsack could release the monies but he hasn’t done so,” said Boyd. “I also think he was too slow when getting the debt relief out for farmers of colors in the first place. He had plenty of time to do it and pull the trigger here and then White farmers started suing us in Texas and throughout other federal courts around the country.
“So I think the Secretary has some responsibility here.”
The AmNews contacted spokespeople from the Biden administration, but they didn’t want to comment on the record.
“A lot of farmers don’t qualify for FSA,” said Michael Carter, Jr. of Carter Farms based in Virginia. “There are more Hispanic and indigenous farmers getting relief than Black farmers.
Carter did, however, have a message for Black farmers.
“Keep on doing what you’ve been doing,” Carter said. “Make sure you pay your bills, be patient and eventually…maybe…it’ll come. But a lot of us don’t have faith. The reality for Black farmers is that we never benefit from the laws that were passed on behalf of Black farmers.”