Senate bill would fund long-awaited discrimination settlement for black farmers


John Boyd of Baskerville, Va., rumbled into Washington on a tractor last week looking to harvest some justice.

A fourth-generation farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association, Boyd was in the nation's capital to join more than 100 other black farmers who rallied for Senate funding of a long-awaited $1.15 billion settlement for black farmers who suffered discrimination in government loan programs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the settlement back in February, and the House approved the funding in July. But so far, at least seven efforts in the Senate to approve the money by attaching it to other measures have failed.

"The Senate has a moral duty to immediately fund this settlement," Boyd said at last Thursday's rally. "No more political games. People are dying. The time to act is now."

Some lawmakers took the call to heart: The same day the farmers rallied, U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) introduced a standalone bill to fund the settlement.

"This injustice has gone on for far too long," said Landrieu.

Hagan noted that more than 4,000 African-American farmers in North Carolina alone -- and more than 75,000 nationwide -- have been denied compensation for decades. "We want to ensure black farmers in our country finally receive the justice they deserve," she said.

Lincoln (at left in photo, with Boyd in hat) had come under fire for recently helping secure disaster aid funding for farmers that an Environmental Working Group analysis found would "mean a six-figure windfall for hundreds of plantation-scale, highly subsidized rice and cotton farms across the South."

Yesterday a national network of black farm groups and advocates sent a letter to all U.S. Senators calling for immediate action on the funding.

"We understand there is wide support for the Pigford settlement in the Senate so we question the procedural roadblocks for passage of the funding legislation," they wrote. "We ask that you swiftly resolve these barriers."

(Photo of, from left, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, John Boyd and Rep. Barbara Lee via PRWeb.)