Oregon Farmers Join Litigation Against USDA Minority Loan Cancellation Program | Nation & World
A farming couple in Oregon have filed a lawsuit claiming the USDA Minority Loan Cancellation Program violates the constitutional principle of equal justice under the law.
The lawsuit filed by Kathryn and James Dunlap of Baker City is part of at least nine similar cases alleging that the $ 4 billion program illegally excludes white farmers from granting loan aid.
Although the debt relief program has already been ordered nationally, the lawsuit aims to test its constitutionality before the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over nine western states.
Since the legal question will likely be decided by the United States Supreme Court, the fact that the matter “seeps” into several appellate jurisdictions will help guide its thinking, said Wen Fa, an attorney at Pacific Legal. Foundation, a non-profit organization that represents the Dunlaps.
“It seems like a problem that interests a lot of people, and rightly so,” he said.
The Oregon lawsuit will also safeguard the interests of plaintiffs if the current national injunction is overturned on appeal, Fa said.
“We think they have a great story. They are both people with second jobs, ”who depend on off-farm income to pay off their USDA loans, he said. “The only reason they couldn’t get this help is the color of their skin. “
The Dunlaps, who raise cattle and hay, took a loan from the USDA to pay for additional livestock and farm equipment and would otherwise be eligible for debt relief except for their breed, according to the complaint.
In addition to farming, Kathryn has a full time sales job and James works full time as a railroad engineer while looking after their baby.
The loan forgiveness program is part of broader COVID-19 relief legislation, the 2021 US bailout, which was enacted in March.
Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander farmers are entitled to payments of up to 120% of their USDA loans, regardless of their economic status or “whether they have suffered racial discrimination,” says the complaint.
The program was not “narrowly designed to promote a compelling government interest” or to “remedy specific cases of racial discrimination”, unlike legal precedents governing equal protection under the law, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction declaring the loan cancellation program unconstitutional and making the aid available to all eligible farmers.
Representatives from the USDA Farm Service Agency, which oversees the program, were not available for comment at the time of publication.
On June 23, a Florida federal judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing the USDA from distributing payments because the program would cause irreparable harm and is likely to be declared unconstitutional.
While the program aims to rectify USDA’s unfair lending practices in the past, “Congress has moved very quickly to address the history of discrimination, but has not acted very carefully.” said U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard.
“The constitutional right to equal protection ensures that racial classifications will only be permitted with ‘the most exact link between justification and classification’,” she said, citing case law.
In this case, however, the law “appears to create an inflexible, racially discriminatory agenda that is not designed to make discriminated against entire individuals,” the judge said.
The USDA was also banned from forgiving loans under the program under a temporary restraining order issued June 10 by U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Wisconsin.
“The obvious answer to a government agency that claims it continues to discriminate against farmers on the basis of race or national origin is to order it to stop: not to order it to intentionally discriminate against others. on the basis of their race and national origin. ,” he said.