Four billion dollars in funding headed to Black farmers was paused on Thursday (June 10) by a federal judge after white farmers claimed the program was racist. Judge William Griesbach in Wisconsin ordered the program for Black farmers to temporarily stop dispersing funds following a court petition filed by white farmers, stating that the white farmers “are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims.”
With his ruling, the USDA is blocked, for now, from continuing providing loan relief to Black farmers, who’ve experienced discrimination for centuries. USDA spokesman Matt Herrick told NBC News the agency does not agree with the white farmers or the judge.
“We respectfully disagree with this temporary order and USDA will continue to forcefully defend our ability to carry out this act of Congress and deliver debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers,” Herrick said. “When the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be prepared to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress.”
The program was a part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed in March. Black farmers, who, for centuries, have lost land ownership because of discriminatory lending practices.
Griesbach accused the USDA of not using the right measurements to calculate a person’s financial need, suggesting the program “discriminate[s] on the basis of race.”
“The obvious response to a government agency that claims it continues to discriminate against farmers because of their race or national origin is to direct it to stop: it is not to direct it to intentionally discriminate against others on the basis of their race or national origin,” Griesbach wrote in his ruling.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Washington Post that the program, championed by Sens. Raphael Warnock and Cory Booker was designed to address those years of inequality that disadvantaged Black farmers. “For generations, socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt,” Vilsack said. One hundred years ago, there were an estimated one million Black farmers across the country. Today’s estimates only 45,000 of the 3.4 million farmers are Black.