(PresidentialInsider.com)- President Biden’s recently passed $1.9 million COVID relief bill dubbed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included $4 billion in loan forgiveness for socially disadvantaged farmers. But a class action lawsuit joined by white farmers across the country against the Biden administration says that their race will keep them out of the program.
The lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty says that the restrictions imposed on the dollars abridges the farmers’ constitutional rights and violates the principle of equal protection under the law.
The lawsuit states: “Were plaintiffs eligible for the loan forgiveness benefit, they would have the opportunity to make additional investments in their property, expand their farms, purchase equipment and supplies and otherwise support their families and local communities. Because plaintiffs are ineligible to even apply for the program solely due to their race, they have been denied the equal protection of the law and therefore suffered harm.”
A similar lawsuit has also been filed in Texas on behalf of ranchers who believe they are the victims of the same kind of discrimination.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described the legislation saying it “provides historic debt relief to Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and other farmers of color who for generations have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt. We cannot ignore the pain and suffering that this pandemic has wrought in communities of color.”
Secretary Vilsack deflected criticism of the program when challenged about the lawsuit during a White House press conference saying, “I think you have to take it back, 20 or 30 years, when we know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture. We know this. We have reimbursed people in the past for those acts of discrimination, but we’ve never absolutely dealt with the cumulative effect.”
Vilsack went on to say, “So the American Rescue Plan’s effort is to begin to address the cumulative effect of that discrimination in terms of socially disadvantaged producers. Secondly, when you look at the COVID relief packages that have been passed and distributed by USDA prior to the American Rescue Plan, and you look at who disproportionately received the benefits of those COVID payments, it’s pretty clear that white farmers did pretty well under that program because of the way it was structured: it’s structured on size, it’s structured on production.”