A national injunction has been issued that blocks the Biden administration from enacting the loan forgiveness plan approved by Congress in March as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.
West Tennessee Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Anderson joined other judges in blocking the Biden administration program designed to redress generation of discrimination against farmers, claiming the federal government has failed to show that the U.S. Department of Agriculture currently discriminates against people of color.
According to Knox News, the injunction is the third to result from litigation filed in seven states on behalf of white farmers in the past month. Federal judges in Wisconsin and Florida have issued similar decisions last month.
Biden announced in late March that a portion of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package included funding for a debt relief program for “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander” farmers. The decision to specifically target the relief because of the USDA’s “long history” of discriminating against farmers of color and the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on their communities.
White Tennessee rancher Rob Holman called the debt relief plan “reverse racism” in litigation filed by numerous conservative legal advocacy groups.
Anderson agreed in his ruling: “Absent action by the court, socially disadvantaged farmers will obtain debt relief, while (Holman) will suffer the irreparable harm of being excluded from that program solely on the basis of his race,” he wrote.
In addition to federal judges objecting to the program, private industry has also taken steps to discourage its implementation. Three of the country’s biggest banking trade groups sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, issuing a threat to withhold credit from farmers of color if the USDA moves ahead with the initiative.
The three trade groups – the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America, and the National Rural Lenders Association – collectively represent a large percentage of American financial institutions. Coincidentally, these are the same institutions that spent much of the 20th century denying home and business loans to people of color.
Biden Justice Department attorneys argue the government can employ race-based exclusions if they are “narrowly tailored” to address a specific wrong, which includes the USDA’s debt relief program.
“Congress considered strong evidence that discriminatory loan practices at USDA have placed minority farmers at a significant disadvantage today: these farmers generally own smaller farms, have disproportionately higher delinquency rates, and are at a significantly higher risk of foreclosure than non-minority farmers,” the government wrote in its response to Holman’s injunction.
It continued: “Congress found that minority farmers’ diminished position was only made worse by a global pandemic that disproportionately burdened them and the general failure of recent agricultural and pandemic relief to reach them.”