WASHINGTON, D.C. –– Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and co-counsel from DiCello Levitt have filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Government, claiming the government breached its contract with socially disadvantaged farmers under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) provides funding and authorization for USDA FSA to pay up to 120 percent of direct and guaranteed loan outstanding balances as of January 1, 2021, for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as defined in Section 2501(a) of the Food, Agriculture Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990.
The lawsuit alleges the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent letters to Black, Native American and Latino farmers who qualified as socially disadvantaged under ARPA, promising to pay off their debt if they maintained or expanded their operations to strengthen America’s food supply during the COVID-19 crisis.
Instead, the government broke its promise to Black farmers, passing the Inflation Reduction Act and rescinding section 1005 of the Rescue Plan Act. In effect, the U.S. government replaced long-overdue, focused help for marginalized farmers of color with $4 billion in generalized help for a broad swath of farmers.
That breach of promise left Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers in foreclosure, jeopardizing decades, lifetimes, or, in some cases, even generations of family farming.
“This is 40 acres and a mule all over again, 150 years later,” Crump said. “In years past, the government promised land and animals to Black people who fought the Confederacy alongside Union forces, then reneged and left them with nothing. Once again, the U.S. government broke its promises to Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers with devastating consequences.”
With the assurance their debt would be forgiven, socially disadvantaged farmers invested in new equipment or land. When Congress repealed Section 1005 of ARPA and the USDA failed to forgive the loans, the farmers could not service the debt, jeopardizing their farms and livelihood.
Class representatives include:
John and Kara Boyd, who own and operate a 1,500-acre farm in Baskerville, Virginia, where they grow soybeans, corn, wheat, hemp and other produce, and raise beef cattle, guinea hogs, goats and chickens. John, an Air Force veteran who is Black, is the founder of the National Black Farmers Association. His wife, Kara, who is Native American, is the founder of the Association of American Indian Farmers.
Lester Bonner, an Army veteran and Black farmer, operates a 113-acre wheat farm in Dinwiddie, Virginia, on which he grows wheat and beans.
Princess Williams, a Navy veteran and Black farmer, owns and operates a 73-acre farm in Lovingston, Virginia, and grows apples, melons, pumpkins, beans, onions and potatoes.
“The United States government must honor its commitment to us and to those thousands of Black, Native American and other farmers of color who are being forced into bankruptcy and foreclosure,” said John Boyd. “Black farmers are facing record costs for inputs like fuel and fertilizer and soaring land costs while battling droughts and extreme heat. We have days, not weeks and months, to save many Black, Native American and other farmers of color from ruin. ”
The lawsuit quotes USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack, who is named in the suit, testifying before Congress that “creating more equitable opportunities for Black farmers is a rising tide that can lift all boats.” Vilsack cited a study that found closing racial gaps in lending opportunities would boost gross domestic product and create more jobs.