A federal judge has suspended payments for a loan cancellation program that relieves farmers of color.
A temporary restraining order was issued Thursday afternoon by Judge William Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, in response to a lawsuit filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in April.
The group alleged that the Biden administration used an unconstitutional agenda in an attempt to end systemic racism and should also make the aid available to white farmers.
“The Court recognized that the federal government’s plan to condition and award benefits on the basis of race raises serious constitutional concerns and threatens our clients with irreparable harm,” said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of WILL. “The Biden administration radically undermines the foundation. principles of equality before the law.
The group represents 12 farmers, two of whom live in Wisconsin: Adam Faust, a Calumet County dairy farmer, who cultivates both amputated legs after being born with spina bifida, and Christopher Baird, who owns a dairy farm near Ferryville in Crawford County.
Faust said at the time the lawsuit was filed that the economic impact has not harmed one race more than another in agriculture.
“There absolutely should be no federal money going anywhere just on the basis of race,” he said.
The group also represents farmers in Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky.
The complainants allege that because racial discrimination is prohibited under the United States Constitution, the federal government “must prove that its discriminatory advantage is narrowly tailored and serves a compelling government interest.”
In the lawsuit, WILL asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Farm Service Agency administrator Zach Ducheneaux to disregard race when determining who would receive relief funds.
The Biden administration created the loan cancellation program for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers earlier this year under the American Rescue Plan Act. The program paid up to 120% of direct or guaranteed farm loan balances for producers who are Black, Native American or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian or Pacific Islander descent.
Officials said they recognize that these groups of farmers and ranchers face systemic discrimination, resulting in cumulative effects that have resulted in a substantial loss in the number of socially disadvantaged producers, reducing the amount of farmland they they control and contributed to a cycle of debt, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, among other consequences.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, socially disadvantaged communities have also experienced higher rates of infections, hospitalizations, deaths, loss of property and economic harm, officials said.
Since the complaint was filed, officials from the US Department of Agriculture have continued to implement the program.
Laura Schulte can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Judge Suspends Biden Debt Relief Program for Farmers of Color