UPDATED: 4:00 p.m. to include USDA’s statement:
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the National Black Farmers Association have announced they will be filing a class action lawsuit against the United States Government.
The lawsuit claims the federal government breached its contract with socially disadvantaged farmers under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was expected to pay off U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans held by 15,000 Black, Native American, Alaskan Native, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic and Latino farmers.
In August, Congress repealed section 1005 of ARPA which provides funding and authorization for the federal government to pay up to 120 percent of direct and guaranteed loan outstanding balances as of January 1, 2021, for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, breaking the government’s promise and leaving farmers in foreclosure.
Black farmers relied on the federal government to keep its promise to fund $5 billion to the farmers when it passed ARPA.
“Black and other farmers of color did exactly what the government asked them to do. They maintained or expanded their operations to strengthen America’s food supply during the COVID-19 crisis,” Crump said. “They believed the U.S. government’s promises. They took Congress and the Administration at their word, expecting that the government would pay off their debt, as the USDA promised in writing. Instead, it was 40 acres and a mule all over again, 150 years later – broken promises that doomed generations of Black farmers to become sharecroppers and robbed Black families of billions in intergenerational wealth.”
Now Black farmers across the country are prepared to fight for the money that was promised to them.
“I’m very, very disappointed in this legislative action,” said John Wesley Boyd, Jr., founder, and president of the National Black Farmer’s Association “I’m prepared to fight for debt relief for Black, Native American, and other farmers of color all the way to the Supreme Court. I’m not going to stop fighting this.”
The USDA maintains that the finds have not been disbursed because of ongoing legal action.
“USDA strongly supported the ARPA Section 1005 program and was ready to make payments to direct loan borrowers. However, the $5 billion that was intended to help farmers was frozen by three nationwide injunctions that prevented USDA from getting payments out the door,” the USDA said in a statement emailed to NewsOne after the publication of this article. “The government vigorously defended this program in the courts but because of these injunctions, the $5 billion provided in ARPA remained frozen. This litigation would likely have not been resolved for years.”
USDA added: “The Inflation Reduction Act — thanks to the leadership of Sens. Booker, Warnock, Stabenow, Manchin, and Schumer – moved to repeal those provisions and crafted something new. Congress provided $3.1 billion that will allow USDA to be able to work with distressed borrowers to provide help with their farm debts in new and more effective ways to help keep borrowers as much as possible stay on the land, stay in agriculture, and maintain eligibility for future assistance. Additionally, for those farmers that have suffered discrimination by the USDA farm loan programs, Congress allocated $2.2 billion to provide additional financial assistance. We are moving aggressively to implement these provisions.”
The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) is a non-profit organization representing African American farmers and their families in the United States. As an association, it serves tens of thousands of members nationwide.
According to Bloomberg, Black farmers lost about $326 billion worth of land in the U.S. due to discrimination during the 20th century.