Kevin Bogardus, Politico, March 24, 2010
Lawmakers from both chambers on Wednesday pressed the administration to help find funds to resolve black farmers’ longstanding discrimination claims against the Agriculture Department (USDA).
March 31 is the deadline the Obama administration and Congress set to fund a new $1.25 billion settlement, according to its agreed-upon terms. But a week away from the deadline, Capitol Hill has not moved on funding for the settlement.
Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) made a public plea Wednesday to find the money to resolve the discrimination claims.
Lawmakers said the administration needs to step in so Congress can move forward on the appropriations request. Conyers and others said the administration has to designate the settlement funding as an emergency so Capitol Hill can waive pay-go rules and attach it to legislation.
A USDA spokesman said Vilsack is actively looking for funding to resolve the claims.
“USDA is actively working with Congress to find the resources needed to fulfill the Pigford settlement agreement. In recent weeks, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has made personal phone calls and sent a letter in support of the president’s budget amendment, and he has urged Congress to appropriate the resources to resolve this important matter,” said the spokesman.
The settlement’s $1.25 billion consists of $100 million already appropriated in the 2008 Farm Bill as well as the administration’s 2011 budget request of $1.15 billion.
There is a possibility the settlement’s deadline could be extended past March 31, giving Congress more time to find the necessary funding. But Boyd said black farmers cannot be asked to wait any longer and deferring compensation yet again would disrupt another planting season.
[Editor’s Note: AR’s discussion of these settlements, “Who Wants to Be a Black Millionaire?” is available here.]