WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – To say that Black farmers are getting the run-around in Washington might be something of an understatement. Since 1997 Black farmers have been protesting racial discrimination in loans and access to other services from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 1997 Timothy Pigford, a farmer from North Carolina and thousands of other farmers sued USDA claiming they had for years been denied government loans and other assistance that routinely went to Whites. The government settled that lawsuit in 1999 and has paid almost 16,000 claims. But problems persist.
There are at least two groups of unhappy farmers, late filers who were a part of legislation enacted last year, and then there is the “late-late group,” according to an aide to a Congressional Black Caucus member who authored last year’s bill. In addition, there are another 9,000 farmers who also want to be compensated for racist treatment at the hands of federal authorities.
For his part, President Barack Obama is proposing that the government provide $1.25 billion to settle the discrimination claims. The White House said the money would be included in the president’s 2010 budget request unveiled May 7.
Although the budget amount is not yet written in stone, the CBC source said, some estimates of the cost of settling all the justified claims, run from $2.7 billion to as much as $4 billion.
After Black farmers rallied to protest on Capitol Hill in late April, the CBC expressed its own frustration over recent court filings by the Justice Department that could severely limit compensation. The Justice Department suggested the Obama administration may want to cap the total compensation at $100 million–about 2.5 percent of the claims.
CBC members requested a meeting with administration officials to discuss the filings. “At a minimum, the CBC should meet with the Obama administration and clarify this filing,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).
What CBC members and Black farmers found particularly disappointing is the fact that as a senator, Mr. Obama authored legislation in August 2007 supporting full compensation for the farmers.
“He should remain consistent with his legislation,” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), according to a published report. “With the background of this president and his legal knowledge, I’m sure they will take another look at this.”
In addition, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., recently introduced legislation that would allow access to an unlimited judgment fund at the Department of Treasury to pay successful claims.
Most claimants in the original case opted to seek expedited payments that required a relatively low burden of proof. The payments were $50,000 plus $12,500 in tax breaks.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘angry,’ I was calling on the president to do what he was elected to do,” John Boyd, president of the Black Farmers Association of America (BFAA) told The Final Call. “He sponsored the bill in the Senate, and we ask the president to implement his bill as the president. That was it.
“The bill passed last year in May, and the Black farmers still haven’t received a dime. We were out there to remind the president that he made a commitment to help the Black farmers, and we want him to live up to that commitment, to get the payments out to the Black farmers,” said Mr. Boyd.
“Anytime you have something written in law, and still you have to get out and advocate for what is law, I think that’s bad. If we go out and break the law, they enforce the law to the maximum for Black people. Why is it that when it requires us to get restitution, we have to wait and the law can’t be enforced all of a sudden is what’s the real issue here.
“So, I wouldn’t use the word that we are angry at the president. We want him to do what he was elected to do, and that is to serve all people, and that includes Black people,” Mr. Boyd concluded.