A federal judge has halted a loan forgiveness program meant to help minority farmers who faced discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program has faced blowback from white farmers who say their constitutional rights are being violated because they’re denied participation into the program based on their race. During an online conversation about the status of Black farmers in Florida, the state’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried spoke in support of the program. She says it’s an attempt to right the wrongs of the past.
“Helping socially disadvantaged farmers struggling with loans, strengthening our country’s food supply, national security, and economics hurts no one. And morally, it was the right thing to do,” Fried said.
The USDA has admitted to discriminating against farmers of color and denying them the same opportunities white farmers had when accessing the agency’s loan and grant programs. In 1999, the USDA settled a lawsuit with minority farmers due to these discriminatory practices and agreed to pay for the damages. But not all minority farmers who faced discrimination were able to get those dollars. And according to USDA data, the number of Black farm operators has dropped from 14% in 1920 to less than 2% in 2012. During the online discussion, Rep. Kevin Chambliss (D-Miami) said the Biden administration is doing the right thing by implementing the loan forgiveness program.
“We’re going to see justice done, and we’re going to see a more integrated a more equal system. Whether it’s in the USDA or other parts of government,” Chambliss said.
Only farmers who are ethnically Black, Latino, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander are eligible for the federal loan forgiveness program. Chambliss says the lawsuit is an opportunity to talk about the challenges Black farmers face.
“We’ve always had to go to the court systems to make our case for fairness. We do know that it has already been settled that Black farmers have been at a disadvantage within the department of USDA. So, I almost feel like this is actually an opportunity to highlight that more specifically and to actually use when it comes out of this lawsuit as precedence as we begin to create more public policy concerning the issue,” Chambliss said.
The program is part of the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan.