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Tennessee farmer sues USDA over loan forgiveness program


A new federal lawsuit claims a Tennessee farmer is being discriminated against because he is not eligible for federal loan forgiveness available to only “non-whites.”

Two Colorado-based legal foundations filed the lawsuit in federal court this week on behalf of Union City farmer Robert Holman of Holman Farms. He is challenging a provision in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that allows for automatic loan forgiveness up to 120% of the federal loan for farmers or ranchers who are “socially disadvantaged,” which is defined as “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.”

The lawsuit names U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux as defendants.

Holman took out USDA Farm Service Agency operational loans in 2016 and 2018. The first loan was for $40,000 to purchase equipment, and the second loan was for $37,000 to purchase 50% of a planter. Holman owed $17,667 on the first loan and $21,744 on the second loan as of April 21.

“Under existing law, Rob would be prohibited from obtaining further loans from the Department if he received any form of debt forgiveness on his FSA loans,” the complaint states, saying that rule does not apply to the loan forgiveness being granted to “non-whites.”

This is the second lawsuit on the matter filed by the Southeastern Legal Foundation and Mountain States Legal Foundation, both based in Denver. The first was filed in Wyoming on behalf of Leisl Carpenter, a sixth-generation Wyoming rancher. Holman’s lawsuit was filed in the Western District of Tennessee.

“The COVID relief farm loan program is doubly unconstitutional,” said Braden Boucek, SLF litigation director. “The law provides 120 percent relief from the federal government for non-white farmers on existing loans, and specifically excludes white farmers from the same benefit. To make matters worse, the USDA plans to exclude white farmers from re-applying for government-backed loans.”

The foundations also filed a request for injunction, which it said was similar to the recent injunction granted in appeals court to Antonio Vitolo, owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman.

Vitolo’s lawsuit is against the U.S. Small Business Administration for prioritizing COVID-19 relief funds from the ARPA based upon the restaurant owner’s race and sex.

“Under the U.S. Constitution, the government has violated Mr. Holman’s equal protection rights,” said Kimberly Hermann, SLF general counsel. “Supreme Court decisions over the past sixty years in multiple contexts demonstrate the positive movement toward the constitutional goal of color-blind racial equality by repeatedly throwing out government-sponsored benefits programs based solely on race.”

The lawsuit says Holman farms soybeans on 2,220 combined acres along with his father and farming is his sole source of income.

This article was originally posted on Tennessee farmer sues USDA over loan forgiveness program

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