Five white farmers last week sued USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in his official capacity, alleging reverse discrimination for his treatment of Black farmers, in particular. The lawsuit claimed the effort to address equity for farmers of color denied the white farmers equal protection under the law.
Playing fast and loose with the historic provision, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty represents the five farmers. In the complaint filed in federal court in Wisconsin, the conservative lawyers alleged the white farmers were otherwise eligible for the forgiveness program.
The lawsuit cites general non-discrimination language from the USDA, never explaining how providing support to groups traditionally overlooked is discrimination. They requested the court block the distribution of the aid program until such time when the issue of race is no longer considered in the distribution of funds.
An agriculture policy blog highlighted a similar lawsuit filed in Texas backed by the newly launched America First Legal. The two lawsuits point to possible coordination of conservative interests attacking the equity-based provision.
Acting in his professional capacity as Texas Agriculture Secretary and a farmer, Sid Miller sued. He claimed that farmers of Irish, Italian, German, Jewish, or eastern European heritage “have unquestionably suffered” discrimination. According to his agency’s website, Miller is an eighth-generation farmer. America First Legal, similar to the other America First efforts, was launched by a Trump advisor.
Despite feeling entitled to a provision set aside to benefit historically disadvantaged farmers, neither the white farmers nor their lawyers address the many ways White farmers have benefited from federal support. In fact, white farmers overwhelmingly benefitted from COVID-19 government aid programs under the Trump administration.
Attorneys representing Miller basically claimed that the one-drop rule should apply to permit more people to be eligible. By definition, this would allow people who conveniently benefit from whiteness and the existing administration of USDA programs to take needed resources from those left behind.
Almost all of the $26 billion in pandemic-related aid administered by the Trump administration went to white farmers. This includes up to $14 billion set aside last fall for certain types of producers, including corn and dairy farmers.
Before the passage of the debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers, only 0.1% of pandemic aid went to Black farmers. The term socially disadvantaged farmer, found in section 2501 of the Farm Bill, includes farmers of color.
As previously reported by NewsOne, the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act set aside $4 billion to provide direct financial support to farmers of color. Other funds were also allocated to address the systemic issues within the USDA.
The USDA Office of Partnerships & Public Engagement (OPPE) oversees programming to support socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. First introduced in the 1990 Farm Bill, the term expanded to include veterans in 2014. The federal government has allocated over $130 million for grants to section 2501 programs since 1994.