Black farmers still waiting for justice
The $100 million budgeted for damages in the government's discrimination settlement with Black farmers may not be sufficient to fully compensate all farmers with successful rulings. The 2008 Farm Bill includes a provision to assist the late filers in the Pigford Class Action Lawsuit filed by Black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The provision authorizes Black farmers who would have qualified for Pigford relief to seek redress in Federal court. But as the Associated Press reported last week, with more than 70,000 potential claimants, the liability could exceed $3 billion, a far greater amount that the $100 million included in the legislation.
According to theAP:
The decision to allow new claims comes almost 10 years after the Agriculture Department settled a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of black farmers. The farmers, mainly from rural areas in the South, alleged that local USDA offices routinely denied them loans, disaster assistance and other aid frequently given to whites -- practices that often drove them out of business. At that time, 22,500 farmers filed claims...[but] an estimated 73,000 others were denied payments because they missed the October 1999 deadline for seeking claims.
As the Federation of Southern Cooperatives explained in a June press release, in hearings held by Congress in 2004 and again last year, it was determined that these tens of thousands of potential Pigford claimants had not gotten fair notice of the settlement from the TV, radio, and print campaign about the settlement in early 1999, and that, as a matter of fundamental fairness, they should be given another chance to obtain relief for the USDA discrimination.
In light of the limited funds available to redress wronged farmers, it appears the long-fought battle by Black farmers will continue. Lawyers involved in the case acknowledge that it is unclear where the money will come from once claims exceed $100 million. "There's no doubt that there will have to be more money in the future," Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and lead sponsor of the measure, told the AP, but adding that, "African-American farmers deserve justice."