This week, minority farmers filed a class action suit against the U.S. government after being denied promised debt relief as part of a COVID-19 relief bill that passed in 2021. The suit comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a rollout of an amended Inflation Reduction Act that allocates relief based on economic need instead of race.
The case, Boyd v. USA was filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. According to news outlet Reuters, four Virginia farmers argued in the suit that the repealed funding amounts to a breach of contract and that farmers, in anticipation of the promised funds had made large purchases based on the pending relief. The farmers are represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
Bloomberg states that one of the plaintiffs, Princess Williams said she received a letter stating she would receive $373,154 while another plaintiff, Lester Bonnet said he should have received $24,749.
Despite initial support by the U.S. Justice Department last year, multiple states heard suits against the American Rescue Plan Act filed on behalf of farmers arguing that the act discriminates against non-minorities. Wisconsin issued a temporary restraining order just weeks before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued preliminary injunctions prohibiting the USDA from using racially discriminatory criteria when administering loan-forgiveness programs for farmers and ranchers such as those created in section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act. Florida shortly followed suit as a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction.
America First Legal’s vice president and general counsel Gene Hamilton issued the following statement back in July, “We are thrilled that the court issued this preliminary injunction for our clients and for the classes that they represent. While it is disappointing that we must take legal action to stop the federal government from using its power to discriminate against Americans based on the color of their skin — in the year 2021 — we will gladly continue our fight for equal rights under the law for all Americans.”
In August, Congress rewrote the relevant sections of the act to no longer mention race, passing provisions providing loan relief for distressed borrowers and aid for producers who have experienced discrimination.
Today, the USDA opened public comment on $2.2 billion to be doled out to farmers who have faced discrimination by the agency.
“The historic Inflation Reduction Act gives USDA important tools to help provide justice to those that have been discriminated against,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These actions further build on USDA’s commitment to use all the tools it has available to help farmers. The Biden-Harris Administration is deeply committed to upholding civil rights, advancing equity, and doing right by agricultural producers, especially those who USDA’s programs have not fully served. When combined with specialized technical assistance, improved programs focusing on land access and retention, and our equity efforts, Section 22007 provides another tool to achieve our shared vision of supporting those who are willing to dedicate their lives to our nation’s food security and rural communities.”
Over the last twenty-five years, USDA participated in complex discrimination claims resolution processes in the Pigford, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, Garcia, Love, and Keepseagle cases. These resolution processes raised difficult questions concerning eligibility, timeliness, standards of proof of discrimination, methods of appropriate outreach, and assistance to farmers, the amounts of compensation, and the implementation of oversight measures to ensure that all contractors executed a strong process to ensure that eligible farmers received payments.
USDA is aggressively implementing the provisions of the IRA to support farmers and ranchers, including:
- More than $100 million to ensure equitable access to USDA programs and services among underserved producers through technical assistance, administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture
- Up to $300 million to improve land access, administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency
- $250 million for eligible minority-serving institutions to create career development opportunities for next generation agricultural leaders, administered by NIFA