MADISON – White farmers in four Midwestern states and a conservative law firm are suing the Biden administration over a loan forgiveness program that provides relief to agriculture producers of color.

The farmers, two of whom live in Wisconsin, allege the administration is using an unconstitutional program in an effort to end systemic racism and should make the relief available to white farmers, too.

“Such broad goals do not override the constitutional ban on race discrimination,” the federal lawsuit filed by attorneys from the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty says.

The Biden administration created the program for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers earlier this year under the American Rescue Plan Act. It pays up to 120% of direct or guaranteed farm loan balances for producers who are Black, American Indian or Alaskan native, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian American or Pacific Islander.

“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,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture officials wrote about the program on the agency’s webpage.

“During the pandemic, socially disadvantaged communities saw a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 infection rates, loss of property, hospitalizations, death, and economic hurt,” the agency said.

A spokesman for USDA said the agency was reviewing the complaint with the Department of Justice.

“During this review, we will continue to implement the debt relief to qualified socially disadvantaged borrowers under the American Rescue Plan Act,” spokesman Dirk Fillpot said by email.

The plaintiffs include Calumet County dairy farmer Adam Faust, who farms with both legs amputated after being born with spina bifida, which causes babies to be born with exposed spinal tissue that can cause paralysis in lower limbs. Another is Christopher Baird, who owns a dairy farm near Ferryville in Crawford County.

“There should absolutely be no federal dollars going anywhere just based on race. The economic impact from COVID-19 didn’t hurt any race more than another as far as agriculture goes,” Faust said.

The plaintiffs allege that because race discrimination is barred under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government “must prove that its discriminatory benefit is narrowly tailored and serves a compelling government interest.”

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin against Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the Farm Service Agency.

It asks the court to bar Vilsack and Ducheneaux from considering race when determining recipients of the relief.
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