After decades of the longstanding racial discrimination in administration of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) loan programs, Black farmers stand to lose their farms, land and livelihoods without an estimated $4 billion in debt relief promised through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, according to a motion filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Counsel, and pro bono counsel Winston & Strawn LLP on behalf of The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. The motion seeks to allow The Federation, a membership network of Black Farmers, Landowners and Cooperatives, to intervene in the Miller v. Vilsack lawsuit, currently pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan was designed to provide debt relief to Black farmers, and other farmers of color who are deemed “socially disadvantaged” due to decades of well-documented discrimination at the hands of the USDA. The USDA and other lenders’ racist policies of unfairly denying loans to Black farmers and forcing unfair loan terms prevented those applicants from buying the supplies needed to upkeep their properties and sustain their businesses, forcing foreclosures and insurmountable debt from one generation to the next.
In Miller v. Vilsack, white Texas farmers who do not qualify for debt relief under the program filed a lawsuit against the USDA alleging that the loan forgiveness payments violate the U.S. Constitution. The court issued a preliminary injunction temporarily halting the program, thereby putting Black farmers in jeopardy. This case is one of a dozen similar lawsuits nationwide in what appears to be a coordinated effort to deny Black farmers the support that they desperately need and deserve.