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Lawsuit seeks to restore U.S. aid for Black farmers

The government must honor its 2021 offer of $4 billion in loan forgiveness to Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers, even though Congress repealed the aid program this summer, said a class action lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, likened the situation to the loss of assistance to Black farmers after the Civil War.

Debt relief for farmers of color was included in the 2021 pandemic stimulus bill. Almost immediately, it was tied up in court, although the USDA said in May 2021 that it would send letters alerting farmers that their USDA loans would be forgiven.

“The law directs USDA to pay off the farm loans of nearly 16,000 minority farmers and begin to address long-standing racial equity challenges that have plagued farmers of color for generations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

But in August, Congress repealed the loan forgiveness program and replaced it with assistance to a different although somewhat overlapping group that includes white farmers. The climate, health, and tax law earmarked $3.1 billion for “farm loan immediate relief for borrowers with at-risk agricultural operations” and $2.2 billion, to be administered by entities outside the USDA, for payments of up to $500,000 each to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who had experienced discrimination in the past in USDA loan programs.

“The U.S. government must honor is commitment to us and the thousands of Black, Native American, and other farmers of color who are being forced into bankruptcy and foreclosures,” said John Boyd, founder of the National Black Farmers Association and one of the “class representatives” in the suit.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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