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Agriculture Dive reports:

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked an Agriculture Department disaster relief program from giving preferential funding to women and minority farmers, siding with a group of plaintiffs who claim the program illegally discriminates against white, male farmers.

In an order filed June 7, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled the program likely violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to equal protection under the law. In turn, he halted the USDA from making payments or providing additional relief to people based on its "socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher" designation until a resolution has been reached in the case.

The ruling follows a lawsuit from Texas farmers who claim they would have received more funding under disaster and pandemic relief programs had they been another race or gender. Critics said the ruling is a step backwards following decades of systemic racism and policies that largely benefited white farmers.

Dive Insight:

The ruling in Texas is the latest move by a court to overturn race-conscious assistance programs in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that ended affirmative action in higher education admissions programs. In March, a Texas court ruled an agency dedicated to helping minority-owned small businesses must open its doors to all races.

The action against the USDA program is reminiscent of a ruling in June 2021 when a pair of judges blocked a separate debt relief program for minority farmers. Congress ultimately altered the programs, granting debt relief based on economic need instead of race.

In the most recent ruling, Texas Judge Kacsmaryk, appointed by former president Donald Trump, sided with plaintiffs that disaster aid programs funneled a greater share of the funds to "socially disadvantaged farmers" or people identifying as Native American, Black, Asian, Latinos, Pacific Islander, as well as women.

In court filings, the USDA justified the programs, saying they reflect the Farm Service Agency's "interest and goal of remedying the persistent effects of past discrimination." Citing historical legislation, these farmers had "more difficulty getting loans and credit from USDA" and were more likely to be in default compared to white, male farmers.

To read the entire article click here.

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