Black farmers are pushing back against in the legal battle to release $4 billion in debt relief funding.
On Tuesday (October 12) the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Counsel, and Winston & Strawn LLP filed an intervention motion in a Texas court on behalf of Black farmers to challenge the lawsuit white farmers brought against the USDA funding.
The funds, made available through the March American Rescue Plan, were designated to help support Black farmers across the country who, for centuries, faced discrimination in lending programs from the federal government. In response, five white Texas farmers filed a lawsuit against the USDA, claiming that the program violates the US Constitution by discriminating against them.
That lawsuit, and other legal challenges filed in other states, stand in the way of the critical funds being released.
"The USDA Has a documented history of discriminating against Black people and communities of color. The federal government's attempt to rectify this injustice should be applauded, not stopped," Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a press release.
"If this critical assistance is not provided soon, Black farmers and other farmers of color who have struggled to overcome decades of discrimination and the economic impacts of the global pandemic will face the threat of losing their land and their livelihoods," Hewitt added.
With this motion, the group will join the lawsuit as a defendant alongside USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who they say do not represent the interests of Black farmers.
The legal action represents Black farmers taking initiative without waiting for the White House or other interventions to be made in their best interest and to address the generations of discrimination that led to the loss of millions of acres once owned and operated by Black, Native and other farmers of color.
"For decades, Black farmers have sought the simple dignity of equitable treatment by the USDA, and the FSA lending program specifically," Kobi Kennedy Brinson, partner at Winston & Strawn LLP said in a statement.
The debt relief program, Brinson said, "is a substantial step toward mitigating the detrimental effects of historical and present-day disparities in USDA lending. Through this motion to intervene, The Federation seeks to ensure the Court considers those long-term repercussions on American farmers of color who will ultimately suffer if the plaintiffs’ campaign to thwart the debt relief program succeeds.”