Agricultural programs should focus on opportunities, not equity

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Earlier this year, Congress enacted the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout law, which President Joe Biden enacted in March. Supporters hailed the law as a way to
promote the opportunity
for “workers” and to give them a “fighting chance” after the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet one provision, which provides $ 4 billion to farmers and ranchers purely on the basis of breed, has been defended on another ground: fairness.

The ARP orders the agriculture ministry to pay up to 120% of the loan amount held by “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers at the start of this year. Eligible loans include private loans guaranteed by the department as well as those that the department offers directly to farmers. Many of these loans are aimed at “beginning farmers” and require a potential borrower to demonstrate an inability to obtain sufficient credit elsewhere.

The way of opportunity, one might think, should be open to all these farmers. But the law defines “social disadvantage” roughly. This term is not defined by any objective criteria such as a farmer’s income, experience or losses suffered as a result of the pandemic. Instead, it is based purely on belonging to a racial group. Minority farmers are considered “socially disadvantaged” and are entitled to payment regardless of their circumstances. White farmers, such as Pacific Legal Foundation clients Julie Owen, a single mother in Virginia, and James Dunlap, who works two jobs and 100 hours a week to support her one-year-old in Oregon , are categorically excluded.

Why? Less than two weeks after the program was enacted, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained that the law was needed “to address long-standing equity issues” and “to address the cumulative impacts of systemic discrimination.” .

Four federal courts – in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and Tennessee – have considered these arguments and dismissed them. Perhaps the most thoughtful of these is that of Judge Marcia Morales Howard, who ruled in favor of PLF client Scott Wynn and issued the
first national injunction
prohibiting the government from distributing loan aid on the basis of race.

Notably, the court’s opinion recognized a fact undisputed by the parties: that the Ministry of Agriculture “had a dark history of discriminating against minority farmers”. Yet he also noted “significant corrective action” taken by Congress over the past decades to correct the department’s sad history of racial discrimination. These measures include payments of $ 2.4 billion to discriminated farmers and an extension of the statutory limitation period to ensure that those who are racially discriminated against have a chance in court.

As four courts have found, the government has not been able to present evidence that these measures have failed to address past discrimination. Thus, the ministry’s mission is to show that the discrimination of the past persists in agriculture today.

Which he failed to do. True, the department cited articles claiming that the vast majority of pandemic relief in agriculture went to white farmers. But, as the court noted, the parties agreed that the relief was distributed on racial grounds, such as farm size and crops grown. Thus, a number of non-racial options, such as the one that distributes relief to smallholder farms, would help farmers who have been excluded from previous funding rounds. Such a program would disproportionately benefit minority farmers, but it would not do so by resorting to crude classifications or ”
thoughtless stereotypes
”That farmers are socially disadvantaged simply because they belong to a minority group.

Moreover, racial disparities do not mean anything by themselves. In a free society where individuals are able to make their own choices, we would assume that there would be disparities based on race, height, and a host of other factors. Racial balance, on the other hand, is rightly verboten. This effort may force the government to tell someone otherwise eligible for a job,
a place in a school
, or some other opportunity for the path to be closed just because there are already too many of the same race there. To the extent that disparities reflect the downstream effects of past discrimination, the government should strive to remove barriers such as onerous license requirements to ensure that every individual, regardless of their heritage, can avail themselves of the opportunity to succeed.

For those of us who believe that everyone deserves equal treatment from the government, regardless of their racial identity, canceling loans based on race is a mistake. In attempting to compensate for the department’s past discrimination, the government has restored one of America’s most illiberal and worst traditions: treating citizens unequally on the basis of race.

Wen Fa is a lawyer with
Pacific Legal Foundation
, a nonprofit legal organization that defends the freedoms of Americans when threatened by government abuse and abuse.


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