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Judge pauses loan forgiveness program for farmers of color

MILWAUKEE — A federal judge has halted a loan forgiveness program for farmers of color in response to a lawsuit alleging the program discriminates against white farmers.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Milwaukee issued a temporary restraining order Thursday suspending the program for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The program pays up to 120% of direct or guaranteed farm loan balances for Black, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian American or Pacific Islander farmers. President Joe Biden’s administration created the loan forgiveness program as part of its COVID-19 pandemic relief plan.

Emily Newton, the lead attorney representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the lawsuit, didn’t immediately respond to an email Friday seeking comment on the restraining order.

Minority farmers have maintained for decades that they have been unfairly denied farm loans and other government assistance. Federal agriculture officials in 1999 and 2010 settled lawsuits from Black farmers accusing the agency of discriminating against them.

Conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed suit in April arguing white farmers aren’t eligible, amounting to a violation of their constitutional rights.

The firm sued on behalf of 12 farmers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky.

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