USDA, long accused of discrimination, now leaving out white farmersMay 1, 2021 • By Debra Tash
Dan Lennington, an attorney with Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, says the law firm is representing five white farmers from four Midwest states who are suing over a federal loan program that plainly states the funds are reserved for “socially disadvantaged” farmers.
According to Lennington, the loan program was included in the American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Biden last month. It sets aside $4 billion in loan-forgiveness funds including direct payments up to 20% of the value of their loan.
“Except,” Lennington points out, “if you’re white.”
‘Pacific Islander’ farmers but not whites
American farmers routinely depend on bank loans to pay for land, day-to-day expenses, and costly equipment, and that reality was recognized by Congress and the USDA, too, in the American Rescue Plan. But the loan program names every conceivable minority — “Black/African American, American Indian or Alaskan native, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian American or Pacific Islander” – and leaves out the white farmers.
That list of eligible farmers is listed on Farmers.gov, the USDA website, with Ducheneaux’s name listed as author of the announcement.
The website states:
USDA recognizes that socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have faced systemic discrimination with cumulative effects that have, among other consequences, led to a substantial loss in the number of socially disadvantaged producers, reduced the amount of farmland they control, and contributed to a cycle of debt that was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clicking on the government website brings up a public survey that includes the statement, “This visit increased my trust in farmers.gov.”
USDA: A history of discrimination
USDA, in fact, is no stranger to accusations of distrust. The federal agency settled a class action discrimination lawsuit, Pigford v Glickman, in the 1990s. The lawsuit alleged thousands of black farmers were not allowed to participate in USDA programs, including vital loan programs, due to blatant racism by local FSA officers who routinely favored white farmers.
Nearly $1 billion was paid out to more than 10,000 minority farmers and, in 2010, more claims were settled for approximately $1 billion in what was called Pigford II.
NBC News reported in a 2020 story that John Boyd, Jr., a black Virginia farmer, witnessed loan discrimination firsthand by a racist FSA officer who once spit tobacco at him. Boyd was the first black farmer to sue the federal agency and win, the story said, and a federal investigation found his claims were true.
Boyd would go on to form the National Black Farmers Association, which still exists today.
Attorney: Crop failure is color-blind
According to Lennington, the American Rescue Plan’s loan program should help any farmer who is “disadvantaged” by a crop failure, for example, not by their skin color.
“Race is never the answer,” says Lennington. “It’s never fair to use racism to fight racism, and in fact our country has a long and painful history of treating people based on the color of their skin.”
The attorney tells One News Now the farmers want a judge to hear their case by summer because the USDA has announced the loan forgiveness program will begin in a few weeks and continue into next year.