Black farmers file action in Texas court to challenge original ruling against $ 4 billion in ARPA relief

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Oct 21, 2021 1:41 PM ET

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After decades of long-standing racism in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan programs, black farmers risk losing farms, land and livelihoods after temporary injunction suspended estimate $ 4 billion in debt relief passed by Congress under the American Rescue Act. Today the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Public Counsel and Pro Bono Lawyer Winston & Strawn LLP, filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the Federation of Southern Co-operatives / Fund aid to land (the Federation). The application was filed in United States District Court of the North District of Texas in Miller vs. Vilsack.

Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan, enacted on March 11, 2021, was designed to provide debt relief to black farmers and other farmers of color who have long suffered from damaging USDA discrimination. USDA’s long documented and acknowledged racist policies of denying and delaying loans have prevented black farmers from operating successful agricultural businesses, forcing foreclosures and continuing the shameful legacy of the loss of black soil by United States.

In Miller vs. Vilsack, five blanks Texas the farmers have filed a lawsuit against the USDA, alleging that the loan forgiveness payments violate the US Constitution. This case is one of many ongoing prosecutions involving Section 1005 in other jurisdictions, including Florida, where a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against the program. The plaintiffs specifically argued that Section 1005 of the 2021 US Rescue Plan (“ARPA”) violates equal protective rights promised under the Constitution for farmers and ranchers who are eligible for USDA loans. but are not eligible for debt relief under the program.

“The USDA has a documented history of discrimination against Blacks and communities of color. The federal government’s attempt to right this injustice should be applauded, not stopped,” said Damon Hewitt, chairman and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “If this crucial help is not delivered soon, black farmers and other farmers of color who have struggled to overcome decades of discrimination and the economic impacts of the global pandemic will face the threat of losing their land and their means to survive. subsistence. “

Farmer statements included in the intervention cite multiple instances of discrimination, including:

  • Lost loan documents and approval delays of more than two years;
  • Inability to sell equipment to repay loans due to vandalism at the auction house in the form of racist graffiti on the tractors put up for auction;
  • Loan documents are filed on time, but funds routinely arrive too late for the planting season;
  • Inaccurate advice on the possibility of restructuring FSA loans; and
  • Receive loan funds weeks later in the season than white farmers in the same area, giving them an unfair advantage in planting and harvesting a profitable crop.

Faced with years of unfair loan terms, mistreatment by the USDA, and discrimination at every turn, black farmers currently make up less than 1% of all farmers nationwide. It was not always the case. In 1920, one in seven farms was owned by a black farmer, but the number of black farmers in America has declined dramatically, dropping 98% over the past century.

“The Federation has been encouraged by the USDA and Congress attempt to address the disproportionate impact of the debt burden that farmers of color face due to historic and continuing racial discrimination in farm credit,” said Speckled Crow, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund. “Black farmers have always honored their commitments to their communities and our nation; our hope is that the ministry will be empowered to honor their commitment to our farmers and other farmers of color.”

A temporary injunction against the program stands in the way of critical debt relief for those who need it most. Without debt relief, these farmers risk losing their land, livelihoods and equipment, while bearing the additional financial burden of agricultural costs that they have assumed in anticipation of debt cancellation. Today’s intervention positions the Federation to vigorously defend Section 1005 and ensure that the stories of black farmers are heard, as this debt relief is essential to their survival.

“Federal farm policy has been cruelly discriminatory against black farmers, operating in conjunction with private discrimination in bank lending policies to threaten their very existence,” said Marc Rosenbaum, opportunity as legal director at Public Counsel. “The loan cancellation legislation threatened in this litigation is a lifeline that makes the difference between the existence and the extinction of the black farmer. We are bringing this action so that the stories of discrimination still faced by the few remaining black farmers will not be silenced and some compensation for the racism suffered will not be denied to individuals who seek only equal opportunities to work their land, provide for their families and serve us all. “

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund assists resource-constrained farmers, landowners and cooperatives in the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise and a range of other services to ensure land ownership is maintained and cooperatives as a tool of social and economic justice. The overall mission is to reverse the trend of black land loss and be a catalyst for the development of self-reliant communities through cooperative economic development, land conservation and advocacy.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law (Lawyers Committee), a non-partisan, non-profit organization, was formed in 1963 at the behest of the president John F. Kennedy involve the private bar in the provision of legal services to combat racial discrimination. The main mission of the Committee of Advocates for Civil Rights under the Law is to ensure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, in particular in the areas of the right to vote, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes.

Public Council is the largest pro bono law firm in the country. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking and other crimes; and fostering economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of volunteer attorneys and law students, as well as an in-house staff of over 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic issues of poverty and civil rights through impact litigation and political advocacy. For more information visit www.publiccounsel.org.

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