Black farmers were again denied a $1.25 billion settlement in a racial bias case against the federal government, when Senate Republicans on August 5 failed to support a unanimous consent on the measure. With Congress now in recess, those farmers have been put on hold again after waiting for more than a decade.

“The Black farmers simply do not have time to waste waiting for justice,” said John Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, in a statement promising to continue agitating “every day until Congress acts.”

While the House has twice approved the bill, the Senate has proven slower to act. The money is the second round of funds dispersed from the 1999 settlement of a class action lawsuit that claimed widespread discrimination in the government’s award of loans to farmers. The suit is known as the Pigford case, after Timothy Pigford, a Black farmer from North Carolina who was an original plaintiff.

Roughly $1 billion has been paid to about 16,000 farmers, with most getting payments of about $50,000. The new money would go to an estimated 70,000 or 80,000 more farmers who were denied earlier payments because they missed deadlines for filing. The amount of money each would get depends on how many claims are successfully filed.

In his statement, Boyd outlined the long process farmers have faced in trying to claim the funds.

“Seemingly obstacle after obstacle is placed before the Black farmers: 
• When the case was settled, the farmers were told, `Go to Congress;’
• When the House of Representatives passed the legislation, twice, the farmers were told,` Go to the Senate;’
• When the Senate placed the funding in the FEMA supplemental, the farmers were told, `Go find offsets;’
• When offsets were identified, the farmers were told, ‘Those are not the ‘right’ offsets, go find others;’ 
• When the farmers were placed in a stand-alone measure, the farmers were told, `You need 100% of the Senate to support it;’
• When the Senate placed the funding in the War supplemental, the farmers were told, `‘Not on this bill;’  and most recently 
• When the Senate failed to pass several unanimous consent measures, the farmers were told, `Later.’”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), introduced the Black farmers’ case along with legislation to fund the $3.4 billion class action settlement for Native Americans that suffered losses from mishandling of Indian Trust fund accounts at the Department of Interior. The legislation was introduced as a joint, stand-alone measure after appeals from the farmers who believed that righting such injustices should not be a “partisan” issue.

“But that’s exactly what Republicans have made it by blocking the long overdue settlement of lawsuits for minority farmers and Native American trust account holders which is fully paid for … for the sixth time this year .”

He added, “I challenge my Republican colleagues to rise above their petty political calculations and think about those Americans who have suffered injustices for far too long.”

Boyd said most of the objections, including that of Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who questioned the compensation of lawyers involved in the case, seem directed toward the Native Americans’ case and urged that Pigford be considered on its own.

“These cases deal with discrimination involving two separate government departments, two separate issues, and deal with very different groups of victims,” Boyd said. “While they both deserve to be resolved immediately, there is no reason why the Black farmers need to wait for a resolution of disputes over within the Senate when we have broad support for the Black farmers settlement funding.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO