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Farmers Seek Class Certification and an Injunction in Lawsuit Against USDA Aid Program

A tractor spraying a field

Tractor spraying pesticides on soybean field with sprayer at spring

Plaintiffs who claimed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) debt relief program associated with a COVID-19 pandemic aid bill was a breach of the Constitution and equal rights laws asked the Northern District of Texas for class certification and a preliminary injunction on Wednesday. 

The plaintiffs explained that because the aid was earmarked for “socially disadvantaged farmers” and the USDA’s definition of that group specifies certain non-white races, qualifying for the aid depends on race and should not be allowed under the Constitution and Equal Rights Clause.

The plaintiffs asked the court to stop the USDA from administering Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided for up to 120% of loans to be forgiven for socially disadvantaged farmers. They alleged that the harm caused to the plaintiffs by the the loan forgiveness program would be more than the harms of a preliminary injunction on the program.

In the brief supporting the injunction, the plaintiffs argued, “a preliminary injunction will not compel the defendants to withhold loan forgiveness from minority farmers and ranchers; it will merely require them to award loan forgiveness to farmers and ranchers without any regard to race.”

Shortly before filing the motions, they filed a first amended class-action complaint, alleging that all citizens of the U.S. despite race, status, or wealth should have the same rights. It also alleged that the USDA administers various other statutes which give aid to farmers and ranchers based on race. The amended complaint added four additional Texas-based white farmers as plaintiffs.

“These racial exclusions are patently unconstitutional, and the Court should per-manently enjoin their enforcement. Doing so will promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination,” the filing said. 

In their motion for class certification, the plaintiffs said they want two classes certified, one for farmers and ranchers who “are encountering, or who will encounter, racial discrimination” from the USDA through the American Rescue Plan Act, and the other for farmers and ranchers who are excluded form the USDA definition of “socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher.” 

The USDA announced after the lawsuit was filed that it plans to start administering the debt relief at issue despite the lawsuit, citing that it has had discriminatory practices towards non-white farmers and that this aid is designed to help account for previous discrimination against non-white farmers.

On Tuesday, before the injunction was filed by the plaintiffs, Corey Lea a third party individual filing pro se, submitted a motion to compel the defendants to begin the debt relief program among other steps to benefit socially disadvantaged farmers. The motion to compel asked the defendants to declare land belonging to socially disadvantaged farmers facing foreclosure to be paid in full and to pay additional funds, specifically $46 billion “allocated to the China Trade Wars Relief to the lower 50% of White Farmers and All Socially Disadvantaged Farmers in Equal payments.” The motion cited past disparate treatment from the USDA to farmers who are not white.

The plaintiffs are represented by Mitchell Law PLLC, America First Legal Foundation, and The Fillmore Law Firm LLP

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