USDA Secretary Argues Against Injunction In Lawsuit Against Loan Forgiveness Program for Minority Farmers

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), opposed a preliminary injunction on a loan forgiveness program for socially disadvantaged farmers, or farmers of minority groups, on Friday. The defendant supported the loan program and argued that it addresses a history of discrimination and that the claims from the five white farmers are not sufficient for the relief they seek. 

The aid program, outlined in Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act, was approved by Congress to give aid in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to “socially disadvantaged” farmers who “had been subject to decades of discrimination in (USDA) programs.” Vilsack’s response cited that farmers of minority races were more likely to be close to foreclosure and did not have as much access to previous USDA pandemic aid programs. 

Vilsack alleged that the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction was based on incorrect theories and does not satisfy the legal requirements for obtaining relief. The response claimed that the plaintiffs’ allegations that they would be irreparably harmed by the program are “factually erroneous,” citing that there is not a finite amount allotted for debt relief, and the funds would still be available if the plaintiffs later proved they were entitled to the relief as well. 

There are four other lawsuits against Vilsack, each in a separate federal court, alleging that the program discriminates against them since they are not eligible for the aid because of their race. One of them is scheduled for a hearing on a preliminary injunction. Last week in one of these lawsuits, the Wisconsin Eastern District Court granted a nation-wide temporary restraining order against the loan program, halting it while that court and others further consider a preliminary injunction. In that lawsuit, the court said the plaintiffs are likely to succeed and determined that the program appears to discriminate based on race and that the defendant did not have support for that action. 

In the present filing, however, Vilsack said that the plaintiffs’ claims are flawed because Congress determined that paying loans for minority farmers would help to remedy “well-documented, long-standing racial discrimination in USDA loan programs and () ensure that its pandemic relief efforts did not perpetuate the effects of that discrimination.” Vilsack argued that Congress rightly determined that the minority farmers needed debt relief and said that an injunction in this lawsuit would further delay payments to farmers after the expiration of the temporary restraining order in the other lawsuit. 

“The conclusory and unsupported allegations of harm raised by these five Plaintiffs — at least one of whom does not even have a qualifying loan for purposes of Section 1005 — should not be permitted to override Congress’s determination and further delay the distribution of payments to their fellow Americans in need,” the filing said. 

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