McKinney v. Vilsack

Race-based COVID-19 farm loan forgiveness denies equal treatment to Texas farmer

Cases > Equality Under the Law > McKinney v. Vilsack
Active: Federal lawsuit aims to restore farmers’ equal treatment

Jarrod McKinney began his farming journey about eight years ago with help from a federal loan for beginning farmers. Like many farmers in the Texarkana region, Jarrod raises cattle and today tends to 60 pairs. Like many farmers facing economic hardship in the pandemic’s aftermath, Jarrod was hopeful when he heard about a farm loan forgiveness provision included in recent COVID-19 legislation. His hope turned to disappointment, however, when he learned he is not eligible for the federal program—because he’s white. Now, he’s fighting for equal treatment for all farmers in a federal lawsuit.

Five o’clock signals quitting time for many Americans. Not Jarrod McKinney. When he clocks out of his full-time insurance job, he heads to his Naples, Texas, cattle farm, where he works from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. every day.

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather, Jarrod began his farming journey about eight years ago with help from a federal loan for beginning farmers. Like many farmers in the Texarkana region, Jarrod raises cattle and today tends to 60 pairs.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency granted Jarrod another loan of $185,000 to help finance his farming operations. COVID struck barely a year after he received the second loan, making it extremely difficult to keep up with normal farm expenses, much less farm loan repayment, and his outstanding balance is currently $180,000.

Like many farmers across the country facing economic hardship in the pandemic’s aftermath, Jarrod was hopeful when he heard about a farm loan forgiveness provision included in Congress’ recent COVID-19 legislation.

His hope turned to disappointment, however, when he learned he is not eligible for the federal program—because he’s white.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides loan forgiveness up to 120% of USDA loan amounts, but only for minority farmers and ranchers. That is, the government is using racial classifications to decide who deserves relief from COVID-19’s economic devastation.

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, the government is trying to combat racial discrimination by mandating more of it.

Loan forgiveness program or not, Jarrod wants equal treatment among all farmers. 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. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said the government cannot do this except in very narrow cases of past discrimination.
Jarrod is fighting back with a federal lawsuit challenging the American Rescue Plan’s unlawful race-based farm loan forgiveness provision.

Read full story

What’s at stake?

  • A bedrock American principle is the right to equality before the law. Government violates that when it treats people differently based on irrelevant, immutable characteristics like race.
  • Jarrod McKinney seeks only to be treated equally. It is unfair for government to distribute benefits and burdens based on a farmer’s race.

Case Timeline

June 11, 2021

Case Attorneys

Related Posts

Donate