President Obama Pushes to Close Black Farmers’ Lawsuit

St. Louis American, May 11, 2009

President Obama has announced plans to include $1.250 billion in settlement funds in the 2010 budget to bring closure to the long-standing Black farmers’ lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the White House has announced.

“This is an issue I worked on in the Senate, and I’m pleased that we are now able to close this chapter in the agency’s history and move on,” the President said in a release. “My hope is that the farmers and their families who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will have the chance to rebuild their lives and their businesses.”

The White House is describing the potential settlement as “just one part of a larger strategy at USDA to improve civil rights enforcement.”

“I am very pleased that President Obama is taking swift action on this matter as it is something that will help us chart a new course at USDA, one on which all USDA customers and employees are treated equally and fairly,” says Agriculure Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

A White House statement describes the sins of the U. S. government.

“For decades in the last century, USDA had a spotted history of discriminating against black farmers in its loan programs and subsidy programs. In 1999, the USDA entered into a consent agreement with black farmers where the agency agreed to pay these farmers for past discrimination in lending and other USDA programs. While thousands of those claims have been adjudicated, thousands of other black farmers never had a chance for their claims to be considered on the merits because of problems with the notification and claims process that made it very difficult for many farmers to participate,” said a White House statement.

{snip}

According to the White House statement, the $1.250 billion will be used to allow those farmers who filed a claim in the original Pigford case, “but whose claim was never considered on the merits because the claim was found not to be timely, have the right to file a new claim in federal court.”

Lase week, Vilsack detailed plans to promote civil rights and equal access at USDA. A memo issued by him announced the following:

o “The temporary suspension of all foreclosures within the Farm Service Agency’s farm loan program, {snip}”

o “The creation of a Task force to conduct a review of a sample of program civil rights complaints that have been processed or that are currently being processed–the complaints and inquiries total over 14,000, including over 3,000 that have not been processed;”

o and “Granting greater authority to USDA’s Office of Civil Rights. {snip}”

[Editor’s Note: Earlier stories on the Pigford/USDA lawsuit, including the special AR report “Who Wants to Be a Black Millionaire?” are listed here.]

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