Three House Republicans say they want payments of more than $1 billion to black farmers stopped and are calling for the Justice Department to examine charges of fraud and abuse in the settlement of a racial discrimination suit.
According to Reps. Michele Bachman (Minn.), Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Steve King (Iowa), the $1.25 billion payout to settle discrimination claims in the Pigford lawsuit–initiated in the late 1990s by the farmers—includes individuals who were never farmers.
The trio claims the settlement is subject to widespread fraud and abuse, and Sept. 29 called for a U. S. Justice Department probe of the settlement and how it has been implemented.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the African-American farmers, and others who attempted to enter the trade, after they were denied funding from the U.S. Agriculture Department to jump-start or keep their farm businesses afloat.
Currently, more than 75,000 farmers are awaiting their portions of the compensation, which also has the support of members of the Congressional Black Caucus and President Obama.
But King said in a statement issued by the Northern Virginia-based National Legal and Policy Center that there is “massive fraud in the Pigford settlements.”
“I think has turned a blind eye to the fraud and corruption here,” King said in the statement.
In his statement, King noted that there are 18,000 black farmers. “They could not all have been victims of discrimination.
“To date, there have been over 94,000 claims made. These numbers speak to massive fraud, meaning that American taxpayers are on the hook for what Pigford judge Paul Friedman called ‘forty acres and a mule,’” King said, referring to U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman. ?
Friedman approved the April 14, 1999 settlement and consent decree of the suit that alleged black farmers were the victims of racial discrimination in USDA assistance from 1983 through 1997.
The class has expanded from the 400 farmers in the original suit to more than 75,000. Roughly 13,000 have been approved for payouts that start at $50,000 and can include loan forgiveness and tax offsets.
John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, and others have maintained that White farmers only had to ask for the same kind of assistance and funds were deposited in their accounts in a timely manner.
Boyd told the AFRO that King and his supporters opposed the settlement not over issues of fraud, but of race.
“They’ve been making those kinds of statements for a while,” Boyd said, “and bottom line, we think Mr. King is a racist.”
Boyd on other hand wonders where are the investigations for the farm subsidy programs and billion dollars that has been sent primarily to corporate farming businesses and White farmers.
“King wants to raise issues with the Black farmers but I’m saying there’s a whole lot of abuse such as in the farms subsidy program and elsewhere that he isn’t talking about.”