A lifelong farmer, Scott Wynn’s livelihood depends on the yields of Wynn Farms, the farm he’s owned in Jennings, Florida, which rests near the Georgia border, since 2006.
For years, Scott has produced sweet potatoes and corn while also raising cattle. COVID-19, however, has wreaked havoc on Wynn Farms. A drop in beef prices has deeply impacted the farm’s revenue. Last year’s COVID-19-related worker shortages and out-of-state travel restrictions also left Scott without enough help or supplies to plant sweet potatoes.
Running a farm is tough enough without a pandemic. Long workdays that start well before sunrise mean little rest for Scott in an industry with very low profit margins—especially for smaller operations like Wynn Farms. But Scott also has federal farm loans of $300,000, so what farm income he does earn goes toward loan repayment.
A farm loan forgiveness provision is baked into Congress’ COVID-19 legislation: the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. But Scott is not eligible—because he’s white.
It turns out the law only provides loan forgiveness up to 120 percent of U.S. Department of Agriculture loan amounts for minority farmers and ranchers. That is, government is using racial classifications to decide who deserves relief from COVID-19’s economic devastation.
The news came as a shock to Scott’s family, and his wife, in particular, who works in the local school system, where posters promoting “equal justice under the law” are commonplace.
The blanket exclusion of white farmers from debt relief purportedly aims to address past discrimination against minority farmers and ranchers by the USDA. These historical wrongs have been previously addressed through administrative and class action settlements. Now, government is trying to combat racial discrimination by mandating more of it.
For the Wynns, it’s a matter of equal treatment among all farmers, whether or not any loan forgiveness program is in place. Instead of a level playing field, they’re forced to farm at a government-sanctioned competitive disadvantage based on something as immutable as race and skin color.
Such racial classifications, however, violate the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. In fact, the Supreme Court has repeatedly said government cannot do this except in very narrow cases of past discrimination.
Scott fought back in federal court and in June 2021, he won the first nationwide preliminary injunction against the unlawful farm loan forgiveness provision.
The injunction stopped the government from distributing funds while litigation continued. On September 12, 2022, Scott voluntarily dismissed his case after Congress repealed the race-based program and replaced it with a race-neutral debt relief policy as part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.