Black and American Indian Farmers Orgs. Argue in Favor of USDA Loan Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) and the Association of American Indian Farmers (AAIF) filed a conditional motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed against Tom Vilsack, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) secretary on Wednesday. The Northern District of Texas lawsuit alleged that the loan forgiveness program run by the USDA for “socially disadvantaged” farmers is discriminatory based on race. 

NBFA and AAIF said in their motion that they do not want the court to consider their motion to intervene at this point, because they “share the same ultimate objective as the Government in defending the law challenged in this action.” They asked the court to consider allowing them to intervene if their interests diverged from those of the defendants. 

The initial complaint was filed by a Texas farmer and rancher in late April, the complaint alleged that the debt relief program discriminated based on race and breached the U.S. Constitution because it is only available to “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” which the USDA interprets as “African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders.” Recently, additional farmers joined the lawsuit and asked the court for class certification and a preliminary injunction halting the loan program from continuing. Four other lawsuits have also been filed with similar allegations in different district courts. 

In the present motion, the NBFA and AAIF said that the plaintiffs’ council did not oppose their “placeholder motion” to ensure that the parties met timeliness requirements, but that if the movants did request to intervene later, the plaintiffs would file an opposition. 

In an accompanying declaration, John Boyd Jr., founder and president of the NBFA, said that part of the group’s mission is to promote civil rights advocacy and access to education, agricultural training, and loans for “Black and other small farmers and ranchers.” He expressed that he has advocated for laws providing loan forgiveness to Black farmers for decades. 

“NBFA has focused on the issue of loan forgiveness because it remedies how USDA has long discriminated against Black farmers and ranchers in the agency’s lending practices,” Boyd said, citing that Black farmers and ranchers were given loan provisions that were not part of loans for other farms restricting the use of the loan and requiring officer’s approval. These procedures could cause delay in access to equipment and supply and delay planting, causing a smaller crop. 

Boyd’s declaration and others expressed personal stories of these loan procedures having detrimental effects on Black and Native American farmers. “USDA’s history of discrimination has disproportionately affected Black farmers and ranchers. Due in major part to discriminatory practices such as these, Black farmers and ranchers have faced distinct obstacles to paying off debts held by USDA,” Boyd explained. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Mitchell Law PLLC, America First Legal Foundation, and The Fillmore Law Firm LLP. The movants are represented by Hendler Flores Law PLLC and Public Justice P.C. The USDA is represented by the U.S. Department of Justice.