Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and four Black farmers say Congress broke a contract when lawmakers repealed $4 billion in debt relief for minority producers and adopted new language that expanded eligibility to a broader group of economically distressed growers.
Lawmakers made the change in an August reconciliation law to move past three nationwide court injunctions that had kept the money in limbo.
Crump, nationally known for his work in responding to the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., filed a lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The lawsuit, dated Oct. 7, says the four plaintiffs “risk losing their farms and their livelihoods as a result of the U.S. Government’s wrongful conduct.”
At a small rally on the National Mall, Crump said his clients considered letters from the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency telling them the amount of debt they could expect to be covered to be binding contracts once they agreed to the amount. The debt was covered by a March 2021 budget reconciliation package.
Crump said his clients — Lester Bonner; Princess Williams; Kara Boyd, the founder of the Association of American Indian Farmers; and John Boyd Jr., the president of the National Black Farmers Association — borrowed more money for farm operations or bought land and equipment because of those letters. They and other minority farmers are struggling to pay outstanding loans and may face foreclosure, he said.