(The Center Square) - A Colorado farmer is challenging the legality of President Joe Biden's COVID-19 farm sector relief program, alleging in a lawsuit it's discriminatory against white farmers.
Under the American Rescue Plan Act's farmer and rancher debt relief program, some farmers can receive payments up to 120% of indebtedness. Eligible participants must be a member of a "socially disadvantaged group," according to the law, which includes people who are "subject to racial discrimination" because of their identity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for administering the debt relief program, interprets the law's definition to include explicit racial classifications, according to the lawsuit, filed this week by Lakewood, Colo.-based Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF).
MSLF argues in the lawsuit that the debt relief program is discriminatory because it's only offered to "socially disadvantaged" farmers such as minorities.
The plaintiff, Sara Rogers, a farmer from Washington County, does not qualify for the program because she is white, MSLF says in the lawsuit.
"By choosing who gets loan forgiveness solely on the basis of race, the government is engaging in the very discrimination that it purports to be fighting against," MSLF attorney Corey Bartkus said in a statement. "This blatant discrimination is not only illegal and unconstitutional, it further stokes racial tensions at a time in which unity is needed most in this country."
A federal judge in Wisconsin recently decided to halt the $4 billion program June 11 following a similar lawsuit, included 12 farmers from nine states.
Judge William Griesbach found the white farmers "are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim" that the USDA's program unlawfully excludes them.
MSLF is also representing Wyoming rancher Leisl Carpenter in another lawsuit against the program.