Farmers of color sue government for promised federal aid

Dec 5, 2022, 6:08 PM | Updated: Dec 6, 2022, 8:51 am
FILE - Farmer John Boyd Jr. poses for a portrait during a break from bailing hay at his farm in Boy...

FILE - Farmer John Boyd Jr. poses for a portrait during a break from bailing hay at his farm in Boydton, Va., on May 27, 2021. The federal government has illegally broken a promise to pay off the debts of a group of Black farmers, according to a class-action lawsuit. The group hopes to put pressure on officials to keep their word and to restore funding that was dropped after a group of white farmers filed legal challenges arguing their exclusion was a violation of their constitutional rights. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The federal government has illegally broken a promise to pay off the debts of a group of Black farmers, according to a class-action lawsuit. The group hopes to put pressure on officials to keep their word and to restore funding that was dropped after a group of white farmers filed legal challenges arguing their exclusion was a violation of their constitutional rights.

The lawsuit filed in October remains active even as the U.S. Department of Agriculture moves forward with another effort to help farmers in financial distress in addition to paying farmers who the agency discriminated against.

John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association and one of four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that the new programs don’t match the USDA’s earlier offer to pay off 120% of the debt of farmers who are socially disadvantaged.

According to the lawsuit, this definition applies to more than 6,500 farmers who have “traditionally suffered racial or ethnic prejudice,” and are saddled with federal loan obligations. The lawsuit says this includes Native Americans or Alaska Natives; Asian Americans; Black Americans or African Americans; Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders; and Hispanic Americans or Latino Americans.

“My dad always said, if you give somebody your word then you should own up to it,” Boyd said. “They gave us their word. We signed a contract and sent it back in and then they repealed the whole measure. I see it as a broken promise.”

The proposed payments and lawsuits follow a long history of the USDA refusing to process loans from farmers of color, and in some cases foreclosing more quickly than usual when such farmers who obtained loans ran into problems.

The federal government settled a lawsuit in 1999 filed by Black farmers and paid more than $2.4 billion, but court filings later acknowledged there were persistent problems in the USDA farm loan programs.

In 1910, Black farmers owned more than 16 million acres (6.5 million hectares) of land, but today they have less than 4.7 million acres (1.9 million hectares).

Boyd was just 18 years old when he assumed an existing USDA loan upon buying his first farm in the early 1980s. He says walking into his local USDA office was like a return to the Jim Crow era.

The lawsuit filed by Ben Crump, a Florida-based civil rights attorney known for representing family members of George Floyd and other Black people killed by police, stems from congressional approval of $5 billion in debt relief for thousands of farmers of color. The money was included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package in 2021.

White farmers in several states then filed lawsuits arguing that the law violated their rights, which prompted judges to halt the program in June 2021.

Faced with the likelihood of a lengthy court battle that would delay payments to farmers, Congress amended the law and offered financial help to a broader group of farmers. The new law allocated $3.1 billion to help farmers struggling with USDA-backed loans and $2.2 billion to pay farmers who the agency discriminated against.

In a statement, the USDA said that litigation likely would have continued for years if they hadn’t changed the law.

“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 … borrowers as much as possible stay on the land, stay in agriculture, and maintain eligibility for future assistance,” the statement said. “Additionally, for those farmers that have suffered discrimination by the USDA farm loan programs, Congress allocated $2.2 billion to provide additional financial assistance.”

The USDA completed a comment period on the discrimination component last month and is now drafting proposed rules for the program.

Boyd, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat on his 1,500-acre (607-hectare) farm in Baskerville, Virginia, said the federal government sent letters to minority farmers asking them to sign up for the payments, and it should have moved faster to provide the financial help. By changing the rules after farmers sent back their signed documents, the government violated a contract, Boyd said.

“We see it as a whole lot of empty promises and broken promises,” Boyd said.

He said the guarantee of future federal debt relief caused some farmers to invest in their farms, only to be left in worse financial condition after the law changed and payments were delayed.

The lawsuit is pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and Boyd said he hopes it will put pressure on the government to act.

Jermaine Walker, who grows corn, wheat and other crops near Pinewood, South Carolina, said the promised federal payments would enable him to save his farm from a bank foreclosure. Walker ran into trouble after he invested $1.5 million in a chicken operation and then had a dispute with a poultry company that canceled his contract.

Walker said he had other options to resolve the farm’s financial problem but then local bank officials assured he would be OK because of the upcoming federal debt relief payments. One year later, the original plan has been replaced and the new plan is still in the works. Walker said he’s frustrated with the government.

“I, Jermaine Walker, want them to do what they told me they were going to do,” he said about the federal government’s promise to pay his farm’s debts. “I want my neighbor, Black or white, to succeed, but now … my family farm is on the brink.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A shopper checks out an item in a Target store in Pittsburgh on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. On Friday, t...
Associated Press

US inflation and consumer spending cooled in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge eased further in December, and consumer spending fell — the latest evidence that the Fed’s series of interest rate hikes are slowing the economy. Friday’s report from the Commerce Department showed that prices rose 5% last month from a year earlier, down from a 5.5% year-over-year […]
14 hours ago
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House ...
Associated Press

Musk, top Biden aides meet in Washington, talk electric cars

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a pair of top aides to President Joe Biden met in Washington on Friday to discuss the electric vehicle industry and the broader goal of electrification. Musk and Biden did not meet, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. The two haven’t had the smoothest of relationships, […]
2 days ago
Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, center, Dani Dayan, Chairman of Yad Vashem, lef...
Associated Press

UN: Parts of internet becoming `toxic waste dumps’ for hate

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. chief warned on the day to remember victims of the Holocaust that “many parts of the internet are becoming toxic waste dumps for hate and vicious lies,” and urgently appealed for guardrails against hate speech. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that anti-Semitism is everywhere, and it’s increasing in intensity. […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Bolsonaro’s nephew probed by Brazilian police over uprising

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s federal police searched the home of a nephew of former President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday in connection with the Jan. 8 storming of government buildings in the capital by far-right protesters. Police said Leonardo Rodrigues de Jesus, known by Bolsonaro supporters as Leo Índio, was one of the targets of […]
2 days ago
Snow blanketed the Northern Black Hills on Dec. 15, 2022, as a winter storm dumped about 3 feet in ...
Associated Press

S. Dakota tribes seek disaster declaration in storm recovery

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s congressional delegation wrote letters to President Joe Biden in support of the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations’ requests for a major disaster declaration following winter storms that left six people dead. The declaration would assist the tribes’ recovery from destruction that tribal leaders say could have been prevented if […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

How major US stock indexes fared Friday 1/27/2023

Stocks closed higher on Wall Street, marking the market’s third winning week in the last four. The S&P 500 rose 0.2% Friday, having given up much of its afternoon gain. The Nasdaq composite and the Dow also rose. American Express helped lead the way. It jumped after giving a profit forecast that topped expectations. Next […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Farmers of color sue government for promised federal aid