MECKLENBURG COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Farmers of color are suing the Biden administration over a broken debt relief promise.

More than 6,500 farmers, who fall under the category of those who “traditionally suffered racial or ethnic prejudice” would have gotten relief, but now they are scrambling to keep up with payments.

“We lost a lot of farmers. We lost a lot of land, and we lost a lot of our history. A lot of history is gone and that’s why I’m fighting to hold on here,” John Boyd, Jr. said.

Boyd is a fourth-generation farmer and a descendant of sharecroppers. He owns more than 1,000 acres of land on Boyd Farms in Mecklenburg County. However, he’s fighting to protect that legacy after the United States Department of Agriculture reneged on their deal.

“The very same government that was supposed to be giving us a hand up was the same government that was taking our farms, and they’re still foreclosing on us today,” he said.

Boyd — who’s also the president of the National Black Farmers Association — and three other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in October against the government for breaking their promise over loan debt forgiveness.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington D.C., said the agreement applied to famers who are Native Americans or Alaska Natives; Asian Americans; Black Americans or African Americans; Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders; and Hispanic Americans or Latino Americans.

The Biden administration set aside about $5 billion for the farmers debt relief program, which was included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that Congress passed in March 2021.

The USDA was scheduled to send out payments to more than 6,500 Black and minority farmers in June 2021. The payments would have forgiven 120% of their loan debt, the 20% would cover the taxes.

But those loan forgiveness payments from the USDA came to a halt when a group of white farmers filed a lawsuit to block that aid last summer. They argued the loan forgiveness program excluded them and violated their constitutional rights.

Dan Lennington, deputy counsel with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, represented the 12 white farmers from nine different states who challenged the loan relief program for minority farmers.

“The initial law treated people not based on whether they have been the victims of race discrimination, but whether they were a member of a certain racial group,” Lennington said.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Green Bay, Wisconsin and obtained the first nationwide injunction to stop the enforcement of the loan forgiveness program, he said.

Lennington added that debt relief for farmers shouldn’t be based on race. However, those who were discriminated against should be made whole.

The lawsuit felt like a slap in the face to Boyd.

“I was deeply disappointed when white farmers sued us in federal court blocking the aid to Black farmers,” Boyd said. “No one is against white farmers in this country, but what I’m simply saying is that we need the same treatment. We need our loans on time. We need subsidies the same way that they do. We need the same farm operating loans that they do and—people–we need debt relief the same way that they got it.”

The initial loan forgiveness program was intended to address the 100 years of discrimination through policies and practices that disproportionately disadvantaged Black and minority farmers, said Boyd.

However, the USDA changed the language in the agreement for which farmers were eligible for debt relief. The lawsuit filed by Boyd and other plaintiffs said their agreement applied to farmers who “traditionally suffered racial or ethnic prejudice.”

Congress amended the law with a broader definition of farmers, giving aid to those who were behind on USDA loans and to pay farmers who the agency discriminated against.

In a statement, the USDA said “Congress provided $3.1 billion that will allow USDA to be able to work with distressed borrowers to provide help with their farm debts in new and more effective ways to help … borrowers as much as possible stay on the land, stay in agriculture, and maintain eligibility for future assistance,” the statement said. “Additionally, for those farmers that have suffered discrimination by the USDA farm loan programs, Congress allocated $2.2 billion to provide additional financial assistance.”

Boyd said Black and minority farmers are pushed to the side when it comes to receiving the same number of payments as white farmers.

According to him, the USDA would process loans for Black farmers after about 347 days. But for white farmers it would take about 30 days to process a loan. The loan amount granted to white farmers would be about $1 million, but for Black farmers it would be about $300.

Boyd said the USDA’s program still doesn’t match up to the 120% debt relief they were initially promised.

 “We still don’t have a measuring place to stop farm foreclosures while we’re seeking justice through the federal courts, so we’re still losing our land,” he said.

Boyd said the government has 60 days to respond to their lawsuit, and the government requested an extension Tuesday.

“From slavery, to sharecroppers, to surviving the horrific laws of Jim Crow, there have always been Black farmers in this country,” he said. “Today, we’re facing extinction.”

At the turn of the century, there were just under one million Black farmers in America trilling 20 million acres of land, Boyd said. Today, the country is down to around 50,000 Black farmers who own about five million acres, according to data compiled by McKinsey and Company, a consulting firm.

“When other animals face extinction like the black bear and the brown bear and the rockfish, all of these things, Congress quickly puts laws in place to protect them,” Boyd said. “Here it is the oldest occupation in history for Black people, which is farming, and we still don’t have a real fix for the survival of the next generation of farmers.”

Meanwhile, Boyd is confident that they’ll win this lawsuit.