more ambitious measures proposed by Democrats to grant plots of up to 160 acres to Black farmers.

The Agriculture Department has a longstanding series of programs to serve socially disadvantaged farmers, and estimates that nearly 16,000 will have loans paid off that were made or backed by the government. The agency has sent thousands of letters to eligible farmers, and expects that money could start flowing by early June.

sued to block the program, arguing that the promised money amounts to illegal discrimination. America First Legal, a group run by the former Trump aide Stephen Miller, is backing the Texas lawsuit, whose plaintiff is the state’s agriculture commissioner.

filed a lawsuit through the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative legal group. “Since when does Agriculture get into this kind of race politics?”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the debt-repayment program at a White House briefing this month, saying that earlier coronavirus relief had gone disproportionately to white farmers. He also said the government had never addressed the cumulative effects of years of racial discrimination against farmers.

“We know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture,” he said. “There is a very legitimate reason for doing what we’re doing.”

The use of race in federal programs has been a subject of litigation for decades, with a narrow majority of the Supreme Court deciding in 1995 that it is permissible only if the programs are “narrowly tailored” to accomplish a “compelling governmental interest.” The courts have generally held that institutions have a compelling interest in remedying their own past discrimination.

Still, the lawsuits have sowed concern and anger through networks of Black farmers. Some have spent decades fighting unsuccessfully to get their share of legal settlements over past discrimination by the Agriculture Department. Now, they are worried that the money set aside for debt repayment could get delayed for years in legal challenges.

“We’re getting the short end,” said John Wesley Boyd Jr., a Virginia bean and grain farmer who is also founder of the National Black Farmers Association. “Anytime in the United States, if there’s money for Blacks, those groups speak up and say how unfair it is. But it’s not unfair when they’re spitting on you, when they’re calling you racial epithets, when they’re tearing up your application.”

Mr. Lewis says he tries to look beyond issues of race and has a white wife, white in-laws and white family on his mother’s side. But ignoring race can be impossible in a small town like LaGrange, he said. He hunts, fishes and holds conservative views, and curses by saying “son of a buck.” He has voted Republican in past elections, but unlike most of his neighbors, he voted for President Biden.

One recent afternoon, a friend, Brad Klauser, who runs his family’s large cattle and grain farm, swung by Mr. Lewis’s barn to catch up. As they talked bills, rising fuel costs and sky-high land prices, the conversation turned to the debt relief that only one of them was eligible to receive.

“Everybody should have the same option,” said Mr. Klauser, who is white, leaning on the flatbed of Mr. Lewis’s pickup. “Do you think you’re disadvantaged?”

“There’s definitely disadvantages,” Mr. Lewis replied, saying that officials scoffed when he first tried to get a federal farm loan. “They didn’t take me serious.”

After Mr. Klauser headed home, Mr. Lewis thought about how the two friends were both trying to reap a profit from the land. “Everyone should have a chance at farming,” he said.

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