Debt Relief Discrimination: Carpenter Tackles Biden Administration

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $ 4 billion to cancel loans to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers under the Biden administration’s COVID relief plan. According to the Mountain States Legal Foundation, white farmers and ranchers are excluded in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, which is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

According to William Trachman, deputy general counsel for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the loans, which fund 120% of loan balances to also cover applicable taxes, are only available to farmers who are socially disadvantaged because of their race. Wyoming breeder and MSLF client Leisl Carpenter, he said, was denied relief due to the color of his skin.

Carpenter and his young son on the family ranch in Wyoming. Courtesy photo

“For those groups (who qualify), it doesn’t have to be that you’ve been discriminated against before,” Trachman said. “You don’t have to have a long, rich history of a ranch or farm that has been discriminated against. You may have just started farming and ranching. Nonetheless, you would be entitled to 120% debt relief on your loan through the Farm Service Agency.



While he calls it a boon to those who qualify, it excludes a number of producers who have been deeply affected by COVID-19. He said if the government grants a benefit or burden on the basis of race, that benefit or burden must meet the highest standards known by law. These principles of equal protection are the basis on which this case has been brought.

According to Trachman, the Biden administration presented the story of societal discrimination against African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as a justification for excluding farmers and ranchers. Caucasians. Trachman said U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the previous COVID relief went disproportionately to Caucasian growers, making the time to target that relief on a different group.



“The law does not require that you have experienced discrimination or been devastated by COVID 19,” he said. “You could just be a member of one of these groups and be eligible, regardless of your personal circumstances.”

PROVE DISCRIMINATION

Trachman said it is possible to prove that some people have experienced discrimination, but that classifying every farmer and rancher by race is presumably unconstitutional. Recent court cases that Trachman cites as a framework for this include admissions to college based on race and the award of some government contracts based on the race of the business owner.

Leisl Carpenter, a 29 year old breeder from Laramie, Wyo., Is represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation and the Southeastern Legal Foundation. Courtesy photo

One of the justifications put forward by the USDA, Trachman said, is that 97% of beneficiaries of COVID aid for farmers and ranchers were white. Although he said he could not confirm this statistic, he said the majority of farmers and ranchers are white and that number does not justify steps taken to pay for breed-based relief.

“We think the way the government has done this is particularly sloppy and offers a compelling legal challenge to the points raised,” he said. “I don’t think that was a smart way to approach racial awareness as long as that was the government’s goal.”

Carpenter’s maternal grandmother’s family immigrated from Denmark and finally settled in the Big Laramie Valley west of Laramie in 1894. This land remains the home of the Flying Heart Ranch today. With one exception, the ranch was passed down to girls, operating during the Great Depression, an influenza pandemic in 1918, and other challenges.

Today, the 2,400-acre ranch is home to over 500 head of cattle and hay and also uses grazing permits from the Bureau of Land Management. The debt relief program, if she was able to qualify, would give her about $ 250,000.

As was the case with many pastoralists, drought and unfavorable market conditions made ranching activity difficult and when part of their rented pasture burned down in a fire, Carpenter was faced with decisions more and more difficult.

The debt assumed by Carpenter’s grandparents, she said, cost them dearly. When his own parents returned to the ranch, the United States was entering the agricultural crisis of the 1980s.

“From an early age, I saw my mother and grandmother who are important women in my life, doing work that is not traditional in any way,” she said. “They really made me understand how to be a strong, independent woman while doing what I want to do. My love of agriculture has been evident since I was born.

FACING FORCLOSURE

Carpenter said times on the ranch have been tough, especially with such volatile markets. When her grandparents passed away in 2009, Carpenter and her mother were left with huge debt. At this point, she and her mother were facing foreclosure on the sixth generation ranch.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “We had our Centennial Ranch that we could lose because of the debt my grandparents accumulated. “

Only 18 years old at the time, Carpenter began the process of obtaining a Farm Service Agency loan. Without the benefits of a credit or asset history, she said the FSA was the only avenue available to her. The loan was finalized when she was 20 and was dating her husband, Tim.

“We cut our teeth learning how to do whatever we could for a living,” she said. “We did and we are still here. It is not easy but we are still here.

COVID, she said, was scary. She was a new mom and faced a volatile market and processing disruption. Even with government help, the unknowns were heavy.

Carpenter said having access to debt relief that she would be denied would change her life and the lives of other ranchers like her, especially young producers trying to start their own operations. She said she was frustrated and contacted the Biden administration and its state lawmakers to no avail.

“Debt is common in agriculture,” she said. “It’s rare to find someone of any skin color on a farm or ranch who isn’t in debt.”


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