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U.S. approves black farmers settlement
$1.25 billion OKd to resolve bias claim against Agriculture Department
 
Published Friday, February 19, 2010 12:08 am
by Herbert L. White

Black farmers are a step closer to settlement of a discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


The Obama administration announced the
$1.25 billion settlement Thursday to a class action lawsuit by African Americans against USDA for racial bias in its loan program. The original suit, Pigford v. Glickman, was filed by Timothy Pigford of Washington, N.C., in 1997, claiming that federal discrimination forced thousands of black farmers to lose their land because they were unable to secure loans.


Congress and a federal judge must approve the settlement.


“My administration is dedicated to ensuring that federal agencies treat all our citizens fairly, and the settlement in the Pigford case reflects that commitment,” President Obama said in a statement. “I applaud (Agriculture) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack for his efforts to modernize operations at the USDA, as well as the work of the Justice Department in bringing these long-ignored claims of African American farmers to a rightful conclusion.”


The government paid $1 billion to 16,000 black farmers in 1999, but some missed out on the settlement due to communications errors. Thursday’s agreement would provide cash payments and debt forgiveness for farmers who missed the original payout.


Black family farms are all but extinct in 21st century America. In 1920, blacks owned 15.6 million acres of farmland; by 1999, it was less than 2 million, and is dropping by an estimated 1,000 daily. In 1910, 926,000 African Americans were in farming; today, less than 18,000 remain.
“It is vitally important that Congress appropriates sufficient funding to settle these claims,” said U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who co-sponsored a Pigford appropriations bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “These African American farmers, including more than 4,000 North Carolinians, deserve to finally receive the compensation they have been denied for decades.”


Farmers can apply for claims up to $50,000 through a simplified program, or submit a more detailed claim for a larger payment. The size of payouts would depend on the number of claims.


“I am encouraged that (the) settlement is an opportunity for black farmers who were denied the benefit of USDA loans and programs to begin to be made whole,” said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “…This settlement will benefit residents of some of the most impoverished areas of rural southern states. Therefore, it is encouraging that claims of these black farmers have been addressed.”

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