Monday, March 29, 2010

Black Farmers Struggling To Get $1.25 Billion Settlement

Congress failed to approve $1.15 billion by a March 31 deadline so now the Obama administration cannot allocate $1.25 billion to settle decades-old discrimination lawsuits with black farmers. The deal, one of the largest civil rights settlements in history, was to compensate black farmers left out of federal farm loan and assistance programs due to racism. Lawmakers left for a two-week break on Friday without approving the deal, leaving it in limbo.

The farmers have been lobbying the administration to declare the settlement an emergency, which would waive Congress from the so-called "pay-go" requirement to trim budgets for other programs to fund the payments. The missed deadline for the case, known as Pigford II, will mean black farmers face more financial ruin. The original Pigford class action lawsuit, named after North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford, was settled in 1999 after the USDA ignored black farmers' claims for decades. In the first case, more than 13,000 farmers received payments in a package worth more than $1 billion. But tens of thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline. The settlement in Pigford II would allow these farmers to again make their claims. (Reuters, 3/26/10)

John W. Boyd, Jr., Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association appeared on CNN news network on 3/28/10 to discuss the Black farmers settlement and the need for Congress to appropriate the funding.

Update: 3/31/10: AAEA received the statement below from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the Pigford Settlement:

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2010 - On Feb. 18, 2010, USDA and DOJ announced a historic settlement agreement to resolve longstanding civil rights claims against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the settlement agreement includes a March 31 'opt-out' provision for the plaintiffs, the two departments remain committed to resolving this issue in the weeks ahead.

Below is a statement from Secretary Vilsack:

"The Administration remains dedicated to the enactment of the Pigford settlement legislation and is committed to working with Congress to find an appropriate vehicle to provide funding. I have met with and talked to key stakeholders and members of Congress reiterating the Administration's ongoing efforts to close this chapter in the history of the department."

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