A conservative Wisconsin legal group on Thursday announced it is suing President Joe Biden’s administration for the latest stimulus package’s use of race in determining eligibility for a farmer loan forgiveness program.
The lawsuit, filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, alleges the Biden administration is engaging in unconstitutional race discrimination through a provision in the American Rescue Plan to provide debt relief to “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have testified that between 13,000 and 15,000 loans would be forgiven and USDA would disburse up to $4 billion for the program. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has testified that the department would forgive loans by paying them off and then sending 20% of the value of the loan directly to farmers.
Under the plan, “socially disadvantaged” includes those who are Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino or Asian American or Pacific Islander. Other farmers are ineligible.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are white farmers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Ohio who have direct loans from the Farm Service Agency or USDA-backed loans who are otherwise eligible for the American Rescue Plan’s loan forgiveness program except for their race.
The lawsuit argues the federal government’s reasoning for making the loan forgiveness race-based — to help end systemic racism — isn’t a compelling enough interest to provide a discriminatory benefit and override the constitutional ban on race discrimination.
“Conditioning benefits from the federal government on the basis of race is unconstitutional,” said WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg. “WILL is committed to ensuring that the current threats to the bedrock principle of equality under the law, something that many generations have worked tirelessly to achieve, are challenged and fought.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Adam Foust, of Calumet County; Christopher Baird, of Crawford County; Jonathan Stevens, of Minnesota; Jay Slaba, of South Dakota; and Joseph Schmitz, of Ohio.
Madison Forward, Part 1: Region's business community pushes ahead
The pandemic had devastating consequences for many Madison-area businesses. Some didn’t make it. Others found a way to limp through. The common thread in all these success stories is resilience. Here are some of their stories.
The pandemic brought unexpected challenges but Madison area businesses found ways to survive amid the losses.
While the food and hospitality industries slowed during the pandemic, Madison’s many biotech and health companies went into overdrive in response to the spread of the coronavirus.
Sponsored Content: When the Princeton Club launched its #ForABetterTomorrow campaign well before the pandemic struck, staff and members had no idea how meaningful it would become during and after the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Not only are we there to care for and educate kids, but without us, there is no economy. Without us, people cannot work."
"Overnight we became a digital production company," says Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra CEO Joe Loehnis.
COVID-19 forced new chapters in the business plans of most retailers once sales began to plummet.
Plenty of local restaurants closed in the past year due to the pandemic, and those that have survived, point to a combination of loyal customers, trusted employees, government assistance and online fundraising.
"It was really a steep learning curve because there was no playbook," said Tim Metcalfe, president of the family-owned Metcalfe’s Market.
"Even though we didn't have a lot of guests, we had to adapt and be nimble to a changing environment," said Phillip Mattsson-Boze, general manager of HotelRed and president of the Greater Madison Hotel & Lodging Association.
The shopping center has evolved from an indoor experience to a more open-air, urban shopping destination.
"I just knew I had to make it," Tammy Schreiter said. "I don't give up easily. And maybe that can be a bad trait but in this case it was good."
City street vending coordinator Meghan Blake-Horst said 57 carts are currently licensed to vend citywide, down from 67 last year. She said she's also working with potential cart operators who are interested in opening this season.
"I'm not going to attribute it to some high level of business acumen," owner Mike Batka said. "There is something to be said about being in the right place at the right time."
With major events canceled, travelers hit the lakes, rivers, trails and campgrounds to keep busy and socially distanced.
Sponsored Content: The Wisconsin Idea is the notion that the benefits of the University of Wisconsin should ripple well beyond the borders of campus.
Financial planning, donations and a $1.4 million Musicians' Relief Fund helped cushion the blow during a canceled season.
Sales jumped last year at the family-owned hardware stores, but snug Ace Hardware Center on the Isthmus closed to in-person shopping for more than a year.
Many Madison artists "persevered" by changing course.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking for most of 2020," executive director Jeff Burkhart said. "It definitely was a period of time where so much uncertainty existed."
Madison-based food delivery company EatStreet more than doubled its revenue last year, doubled its driver base in Madison and added about 200 area restaurants to its app. But CEO Matt Howard said driving business to the restaurants themselves was the most important part of his company.