Is presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's (R-MN) attack on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) settlement with African American farmers racist? Bachmann is coming under increasing fire for characterizing a settlement to black farmers who were discriminated against as mass “fraud.” For years, black farmers alleged that they were being denied USDA farm loans or that they were forced to wait longer for loan approval than other non-minority farmers. Some contended that they endured foreclosure and financial ruin as a direct result. Following a class action lawsuit that was initiated back in 1997 – the so-called Pigford Cases – a U.S. Court has established that between 1983 and 1997 the USDA discriminated against black farmers who applied for farm loans and other assistance on the basis of their race, and that the USDA also failed subsequently to investigate or properly respond to complaints. Following this unequivocal ruling you would think that all efforts would now turn to addressing this injustice as swiftly as possible for the thousands of individuals and families who were wronged.
Apparently the 10th time’s the charm. After nine previous attempts to get the Pigford vs. Glickman settlement funded by Congress, the 111th Senate has appropriated $1.15 billion to resolve the many longstanding lawsuits filed by black farmers systematically discriminated against by the USDA.
“This is a huge, huge victory for myself and black farmers, many of whom have died waiting for justice,” said John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association. “I have been working on this thing for 26 years. I’ve been hearing ‘no’ for so very long.” The initial lawsuit was settled out of court in 1997. However Congress has since failed to appropriate the funds necessary to address farmers’ claims. The legislation must now go back to the House for passage during the lame duck session in order to become law.
Both President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack applauded this recent decision. Obama issued a statement Friday saying, “I urge the House to move forward with this legislation as they did earlier this year, and I look forward to signing it into law.” For updates on the Pigford Settlement and upcoming legislation visit the National Black Farmers Association website.