Politics USDA will ‘forcefully defend’ debt relief for farmers of color after judge's order
Cyberattack on food supply followed years of warnings
Virtually no mandatory cybersecurity rules govern the millions of food and agriculture businesses that account for about a fifth of the U.S. economy. And now, the risk has become real.A week and a half later, the prediction became reality as a ransomware attack forced the shutdown of meat plants that process more than a fifth of the nation’s beef supply in the latest demonstration of hackers’ ability to interrupt a critical piece of the U.S. economy.
The Agriculture Department is defending its historic move to issue some $4 billion debt relief payments to thousands of farmers of color after a federal judge in Wisconsin.
The payments were mandated as part of a sweeping Covid aid bill that Congress passed in March and are aimed at chipping away at more than a century of unequal and discriminatory treatment under USDA programs.
Some white farmers, however, have sued the department, arguing that issuing federal aid based on race is unconstitutional.
Trump allies wage legal war against farming equity
Black farmers say reverse discrimination has never been evident in their industry — but that may not stop the idea of it from being used to upend civil rights law.The fight is centered on which farmers get taxpayer help at a time when Biden has pledged to focus on equity and reversing systemic injustices across federal programs. Trump's allies argue that the same criteria long used to discriminate against farmers of color — race and ethnicity — can't be employed to make them exclusively eligible for federal programs.
A temporary restraining order halting those payments was issued by Judge William Griesbach of Wisconsin's Eastern District in response to a lawsuit, which bills itself as a conservative group focused on individual rights.
USDA said Friday that it disagreed with the judge's order.
"USDA will continue to forcefully defend our ability to carry out this act of Congress and deliver debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers,” a department spokesperson said in an email. “When the temporary order is lifted, USDA will be prepared to provide the debt relief authorized by Congress.”
It’s not yet clear if the order is a blip in the rollout, or if it’s the beginning of a drawn out legal fight over the Biden administration’s most visible racial equity initiatives. The debt payments program stems from language Sen. Raphael Warnock secured in the Covid bill a few weeks after taking office, after he helped Democrats win a razor-thin majority in the Senate.
After years of GOP spending and tax cuts, Rick Scott wants to focus on the debt
WASHINGTON — For four years, former President Donald Trump ignored a campaign promise to reduce the federal debt, and the COVID-19 pandemic spurred enormous amounts of government spending under Trump and President Joe Biden. Now, with Republicans out of power, Florida Sen. Rick Scott says he wants to zone in on reducing the debt, a rallying cry of Tea Party Republicans a decade ago. And he’s Now, with Republicans out of power, Florida Sen. Rick Scott says he wants to zone in on reducing the debt, a rallying cry of Tea Party Republicans a decade ago.
What the program does: Under USDA’s debt relief program, Black, Native American, Alaskan Native, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic and Latino farmers qualify for payments of up to 120 percent of their outstanding USDA loans. The department estimates 16,000 farmers of color qualify for the aid, which is designed to also cover any taxes owed on the loan forgiveness.
The initiative has been touted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as a way to “advance equity and address systemic discrimination in USDA programs.”
Black farmers have faced particularly egregious and well-documented racist treatment and barriers accessing credit and other USDA programs, which are often crucial to farming operations. In 1920, Black farmers owned 14 percent of all farms. Today, the number has dwindled to some 1.6 percent, according to the U.S. Agricultural Census.
Political fire: The idea of helping farmers of color pay off outstanding farm debt has outraged some farmers, who are overwhelmingly white. Recent analyses have found that.
USDA is facing other lawsuits over the program. America First Legal, a group led by Stephen Miller, a top aide to former President Donald Trump, has also sued the department on behalf of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who is suing in his “personal capacity.”
What’s next: USDA on Friday encouraged farmers to continue submitting paperwork so that payments can be processed when the order is lifted.
USDA has until Friday, June 18, to respond to the Wisconsin group’s motion for a preliminary injunction.
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