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USDA to start loan forgiveness for thousands of farmers of color in June

USDA to start loan forgiveness for thousands of farmers of color in June
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The Department of Agriculture on Friday announced it would begin distributing loan forgiveness funds to thousands of minority and disadvantaged farmers starting in early June as part of a program established under the American Rescue Plan. 

The fund, which is meant to provide government aid to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” marks a “major civil rights victory,” Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE said in a USA Today op-ed published Friday. 

“For Black and minority farmers, the American Rescue Plan could represent one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in decades,” he wrote. “That’s because deep within the law is a provision that responds to decades of systemic discrimination perpetrated against farmers and ranchers of color by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” 

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The law specifically directs the USDA to pay off the farm loans of nearly 16,000 minority farmers, and Vilsack told The Washington Post on Friday that those who will benefit include Black, American Indian, Hispanic, Alaskan Native, Asian American and Pacific Islander farmers. 

Today, after months of planning, USDA begins this historic debt relief program,” the secretary wrote in his op-ed. 

Vilsack told the Post that farmers “will get a letter that advises them that their debt is in the process of being paid,” and eligible farmers and ranchers will receive an additional 20 percent of the loan as a cash payment to compensate for the burden that comes with a large debt relief. 

The launch comes after Black farmers had accused the USDA of delaying its start to the program, while white farmers and some lawmakers have criticized it as being discriminatory, and banks have argued it could negatively harm lending institutions. 

The program is currently facing multiple lawsuits, including from America First Legal (AFL), the legal group started by former President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE aide Stephen MillerStephen MillerShelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Pro-Trump group presses Biden officials for records on critical race theory The Memo: Biden feels the heat from all sides on immigration MORE

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AFL argued in its lawsuit filed late last month that the USDA through its fund for disadvantaged farmers and ranchers is “actively and invidiously discriminating against American citizens solely based upon their race.” 

“White farmers and ranchers are not included within the definition of ‘socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,’ making them ineligible for aid under these federal programs,” the lawsuit argued. 

“These racial exclusions are patently unconstitutional, and the Court should permanently enjoin their enforcement,” the AFL added. 

In another lawsuit, a group of white Midwestern farmers alleged they were denied participation in the loan forgiveness program because of their race, arguing that if they were considered eligible, “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.”