Black Farmers Call on Congress to Pay Racial Bias Settlement

CNN, April 22, 2010

African-American farmers hoping for government settlement money in a racial bias case met with lawmakers Wednesday and called on Congress to come up with a way to fund the $1 billion deal.

A March 31 deadline to appropriate the funds has passed, and farmers now may withdraw from the settlement and pursue independent litigation against the government. Congress now has a target date of the end of May to come up with a plan.

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Litigation known as the Pigford Case established a longstanding pattern of discrimination at the U.S. Agriculture Department against African-American farmers who had applied for farm loans and support from federal programs.

Under the terms of an involved process overseen by a federal judge and dating to 1999, qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias. In addition, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said those farmers may pursue a claim for actual damages from the bias and potentially receive up to $250,000.

Ralph Paige, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said Wednesday that he believed that Congress was “very close” to coming up with a way to pay the settlement, which covers as many as 80,000 African-American farmers.

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Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, {snip} said lawmakers need to work out how to pay for the settlement under the PAYGO rule, meaning Congress must balance any increased spending with equal savings elsewhere. The other option would be to designate the settlement as an emergency, which would be exempt from PAYGO.

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“If we cannot find the appropriate vehicle, then I would certainly support declaring this settlement as a national emergency and adding it to the next supplemental that may be on the House floor,” he said.

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[Additional stories on the Pigford case, including the AR discussion “Who Wants to Be a Black Millionaire?” are listed here.]

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