In this file photo, a farmer harvests crops near Sinsinawa Mound in Wisconsin. (Photo by AP)
A federal judge has issued a restraining order halting payments for a loan forgiveness program that provides relief for non-white farmers in the United States.
US District Judge William Griesbach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, issued the temporary order Thursday suspending the program for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers of color, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Friday.
The $4 billion initiative, set up by the Joe Biden administration as part of its coronavirus relief plan in March, pays up to 120 percent of direct or guaranteed farm loan balances for Black, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian American or Pacific Islander farmers.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) in April that alleged the program discriminated against white agricultural producers. The lawsuit is one of at least five others filed against the Biden administration to challenge the constitutionality of the program.
The firm sued on behalf of 12 farmers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Oregon, and Kentucky.
The group accused the Biden administration of using an unconstitutional program to narrow the racial gap in the farming industry and demanded that aid be available to white farmers, too.
"The Court recognized that the federal governmentís plan to condition and allocate benefits on the basis of race raises grave constitutional concerns and threatens our clients with irreparable harm," said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel for WILL. "The Biden administration is radically undermining bedrock principles of equality under the law."
This is while minority farmers have complained for decades that they have been unfairly denied farm loans and other government assistance, and have launched several lawsuits against the US government. Federal agriculture officials in 1999 and 2010 settled lawsuits from Black farmers accusing the agency of discriminating against them.
One of the plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit, Wisconsin dairy farmer Adam Faust, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "there should be absolutely no federal dollars going anywhere based on race."
Griesbachís restraining order follows a similar ruling in a case involving a Tennessee restaurant owner who had previously sued the Biden administration for not providing COVID-19 financial assistance to him, alleging that he was denied the relief because he was a white male.
Last month, an appellate court in Texas issued a temporary injunction against the Biden administrationís $27 billion relief program for over 100,000 restaurants owned by women, veterans and people of color.
On Friday, the administration said it would not disburse approved relief funds to such small businesses to comply with the injunction.
Administration officials say they have been trying to prioritize aid to minority- and women-owned businesses, many of which could not apply for and receive federal assistance under the Donald Trump administrationís pandemic relief programs.