Reviled Trump adviser Stephen Miller who helped shape Trump’s racist immigration policies has a new focus: sabotaging President Joe Biden’s plan to help struggling Black farmers who average $2,400 each in farm income.
Miller founded America First Legal Foundation (AFL), which is bankrolling a Texas lawsuit against Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. It’s over Biden’s planned debt relief for Black and other minority farmers. The lawsuit is one of at least 13 challenging the constitutionality of the program.
“AFL is filing a lawsuit . . .against the Biden administration to prevent it from administering programs created under the American Rescue Plan Act that discriminate against American farmers and ranchers based on the basis of race,” Miller said last year.
In 1910, Black farmers owned 16 million to 19 million acres, about 14% of our nation’s farmland. The number of Black farmers plummeted more than 90% from 1920 to 1969. In 2017, about 1.4% of our nation’s farmers were Black, and they operated about 0.5% of agricultural land.
Historian Pete Daniel said that federal agriculture offices increased discrimination against Black farmers after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Black farmers were excluded. Farm Service Agency county committees, which decided who qualified for loans, were dominated by white men.
In 2021, when Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rejected about 42% of Black farmers for direct loans compared with a rejection rate of 9% for white farmers.
Florida farmer Kelvin Cannon told the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which wants to intervene in the Texas lawsuit, that he had to resubmit his loan application in 2021 at least 15 times before he was approved for an FSA loan. By the time the loan was approved, it was too late to plant any soybeans, corn, or peanuts.
“If I do not receive my anticipated debt relief from the USDA, I will be unable to adequately support myself and my two little girls who are 4 and 6 years old,” Cannon said. “I’d lose everything – my house, my truck, and all my farm equipment. My family will be homeless.”
Under Biden’s American Rescue Plan, socially disadvantaged farmers could receive debt relief for up to 120% of the value of the loan. This includes African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.
Rodeo cowboy Sid Miller, now the agriculture commissioner in Texas, and four other white farmers or ranchers sued Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in federal court in the northern district of Texas.
The Texas court is favored for Republicans because of Judge Reed O’Connor. He ruled against transgender rights and the Affordable Care Act in other cases, issued a preliminary injunction that prevents the USDA from making debt relief payments to minority famers while the lawsuit is active.
Judges hearing other cases over the constitutionality of the law have put those cases on hold until the Texas lawsuit is decided.
Democrats are trying to include debt relief for minority farmers in Biden’s Build Back Better package, but that could exclude thousands of farmers debt relief that was supposed to help because of changes in loan eligibility.
Bankers are also pushing back against federal help for Black farmers. The American Bankers Association and other banking groups told the USDA there could be adverse consequences to bank income because of help for financially struggling farmers.
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