February 18th, 2010
06:36 PM ET
13 years ago

Black farmers claim victory in proposed settlement over bias

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/18/art.farmers.cnn.jpg caption="The head of the National Black Farmers Association said Thursday the U.S. government has agreed to pay qualified farmers $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias."]
Washington (CNN) - The head of the National Black Farmers Association said Thursday the U.S. government has agreed to pay qualified farmers $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias.

And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said those farmers may also pursue a claim for actual damages from the bias, and potentially receive up to $250,000.

The settlement, which covers as many as 80,000 black farmers, still needs to be funded by Congress to cover the price tag of more than $1 billion, both sides acknowledged Thursday.

The 2010 farm bill, still pending in Congress, includes more than a $1 billion to cover the compensation claims.

President Barack Obama issued a written statement Thursday saying, in part, "My administration is dedicated to ensuring that federal agencies treat all our citizens fairly, and the settlement in the Pigford case reflects that commitment."

The Pigford case was decided in favor of black farmers by a federal judge's ruling in 1999.

The head of the farmer's group, John Boyd, told CNN, "It's really the Department of Agriculture agreeing to pay, the Justice Department agreeing to pay, and our lawyers agreeing to the process."

In a conference telephone call with reporters, Vilsack said racial bias unquestionably took place in his agency over many years.

He gave an example of two farmers, one white, one black, applying for a farm loan with an office of the USDA.

The white farmer's application "was processed rapidly, it was approved, and resources were quickly available to enable him to put a crop in," Vilsack said, but the application from the black farmer "was denied without due diligence on whether he had the capacity to repay, or else he or she was strung out over such a long period of time that they couldn't put in a crop."

The result, Vilsack said, was that "in some cases they lost the farm."

This month Boyd's group organized demonstrations throughout historically black agricultural areas of the south, including areas in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The rallies wrapped up Monday as a small group of activists gathered outside the Agriculture Department. Boyd and other demonstrators expressed frustration that Congress has yet to approve a budget that would pay for the 1999 class action settlement in the case.

Part of the reason lawmakers were reluctant in the past to provide funding, Vilsack noted, was their concern that there was no agreement on the table, such as the one announced Thursday.

He described a two-track process in which black farmers could receive a flat $50,000 payout with minimal proof linking discrimination to the denial of federal farm support.

A more rigorous system of proof could establish actual damages and yield a potential payout up to $250,000, depending on how many other claimants also prove their case to draw from the funding provided by Congress.

Boyd acknowledged "not everyone will qualify" for the payments.

"It's still a victory that their claims will be reviewed as a result of this agreement, which at least gives them a chance and keeps this out of courts where no one gets any money," he said.

Vilsack, noting the farm bill is still awaiting approval, said, "I don't think anybody in Congress doubts there's a responsibility to settle." However, if there's no funding by the end of March, farmers can walk away from the agreement if they desire, he said.

Boyd said he will meet Friday with the staffs of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to affirm that the agreement should be funded.

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Willy Brown

    "Boyd said he will meet Friday with the staffs of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to affirm that the agreement should be funded."

    Another democrat party pay off for votes.

    February 18, 2010 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  2. Joe

    I had no idea this would happen. There will be massive fraud. My parents, who was poor, also was discriminated against just because they were poor. But where is their money. Just because they are white they still are left out.

    February 18, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  3. Andy from NYC

    Settlement not achievable under Cheney/Bush.

    February 18, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  4. mjm

    "The Pigford case was decided in favor of black farmers by a federal judge's ruling in 1999."

    No it wasn't. There was a settlement by the government. IF the farmers could prove discrimination within 180 days, the government agreed to pay $50k. Track A required minimal proof of discrimination. That's the one most farmers took. Track B paid out 250k, but required more proof.....no takers on that one.

    Bottom line, this case was BS. Banks recognize risk, not color. Race isn't considered in a SBA or Farm loan. The only color banks consider is green....can you pay back your loan with interest? yes or no.

    February 18, 2010 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  5. Pelosi is a see-you-en-tea

    Keep reading from the telepromter and don't use "chickens coming home to roost" quotes from your buddy jerimiah when you put your mug on the tv (cause we all know your going too) to talk about the plane crash in TX tonight, oh chosen one. And just because it happened in Bush's state don't mean he gets the blame!

    February 18, 2010 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  6. Monster Zero

    Hmmmm, I wonder where on the Ag form it states that the farmer is either black, white, green or yellow? Perhaps it is all in the presentation and the Obama Administration is just carrying on affirmative action in a covert way similar to hiring uneducated minorities for high level , high paying federal positions and expanding government employment with minorities....

    February 18, 2010 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  7. Andy from NYC

    Another reason why red states are red and blue states are blue. The GOP held their power base by not reaching agreements wherein their past administrations refused to come to terms. Even though federal courts rule favorably, the rulings are ignored in favor of political expediency. Ah yes, the hypocrisy of the GOP. Wrap yourself in the flag and proclaim patriotism and democracy. But times, they are a changing.

    February 18, 2010 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  8. Ridgeway

    ".....and if we treat some folk a little more fairly than other fair ones, well...that's what I call socialized welfair."

    February 18, 2010 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  9. T'SAH from Virginia

    WELL – it's about time!!! This has been going on for years and as a matter of fact, I know a farmer 'personally and he/they deserve all of it. Thank you and please make the funds available!!!

    February 18, 2010 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  10. Aaron

    Can't Washington do anything besides give taxpayer money away?

    February 18, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  11. Dan, CA

    I grew up on a farm in MN in the 50s and 60s. We were dirt poor, but with my Dad working another full time job, we all made it through. My Dad never got a loan from the USDA to put a crop in. He did borrow at times from the private commercial bank in the next town. I don't think it would ever occur to him to inquire if one could be had. My family were strick Democrats but I don't think we relied on the government to take care of us.

    Why does everyone think the government is the answer now? Oh well, another billion borrowed from China. It won't stop until this country is owned by the Chinese.

    February 18, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  12. tee

    You wonder why monorities can't get ahead......2010....and this crap is still happening....well if the President of the United States could be trated with such disrepect......what chance does a hard working monority farmer has......but of course they will deny the racial aspect....and make other well known accusations.

    February 18, 2010 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  13. terry,va.

    You can betcha that Obummie will support this. After all this isn't red states, blue states, white America or black America. NOT!!! This is the most divisive President we have ever seen. This country under Obummie doesn't have anything for the normal Joe that works.

    February 18, 2010 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  14. Albo58

    Yet more reparations paid for by the American taxpayers! For those groups that feel this government owes them something other than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; get educated, get a job and get on with your lives!

    February 18, 2010 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  15. polly

    Racial discrimination is unlawful and ugly. But so are the grudges being held against the past. I have seen hate on both sides. It will only stop when each person decides to stop letting it affect them. It is like sin that is passed from generation to generation.

    February 18, 2010 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  16. southern cousin

    And how will this contribute to the quality, productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of the use of our taxes? For some reason, I just don't see it doing that. Am I missing something?

    February 18, 2010 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  17. Ronay Hunter-Bracey

    Thanks for working so hard to reach this point. My mother tried to get a loan for a veggie farm and was told no. She wasn't even allowed to complete the application. I remember questioning the representative at the FHA office. So many Black have been mistreated by those who suppose to help. It is extremely sad that our foreparents help build this country and yet we are seen as less than productive citizen...where as our foreparent were more productive than the race that enslaved, misuse, and abused them. I hope we get what is due to each of us who tried to make a better life for families' future.

    February 18, 2010 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |