Obama Wants $1.25 B to Compensate up to 66,000 African American Farmers for USDA Discrimination in 1981-96; Census Says African American Farmers Peaked at 33,000 in Those Years

Nicholas Ballasy, Cybercast News Service, October 14, 2010

President Barack Obama is requesting $1.15 billion from Congress–to add to a $100-million earmark he pushed through Congress in 2008 when he was a senator–to create a $1.25 billion federal fund to settle discrimination claims by what the Justice Department says is 66,000 African Americans who “farmed or attempted to farm” and were allegedly the victims of discrimination committed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the period from Jan. 1, 1981 to Dec. 31, 1996.

During that 16-year period, however, the number of African American farm operators in the United States peaked at 33,000 in 1982, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 1992, says the Census Bureau, the number of African American farmers had fallen as low as 19,000. (There were 2.24 million total farmers in the United States in 1982 and 1.93 million in 1992.)

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A Department of Justice spokeswoman told CNSNews.com that the $1.15 billion the administration is requesting from Congress to settle what is called the Pigford II case is based on complaints of discrimination from 66,000 individual African American farmers who allege the Department of Agriculture wrongfully denied them federal farm loans or benefits between the beginning of 1981 and the end of 1996.

Back in 1997, lawyers brought a class-action suit, Pigford v. Glickman, against the USDA on behalf of African American farmers who allegedly were discriminated against because of their race when they tried to secure federally-backed farm loans or benefit payments.

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Ultimately, a Justice Department spokeswoman told CNSNews.com, a total of 66,000 individual African American farmers came forward after the original 1999 Pigford deadline seeking to make a claim against the USDA for discriminating against them on the basis of race in the period of 1981 through 1996.

Counting the original 20,000 who met the 1999 deadline and the 66,000 who did not, there are a total of 86,000 African Americans who “farmed or attempted to farm” from 1981 through 1996 made a claim of discrimination or are seeking to make one against the U.S. government.

Yet, the alleged discrimination against these 86,000 African American farmers occurred during a period when the peak African American farm-operator population was 33,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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CNSNews.com asked the Department of Justice what process it went through to verify the claims of the 66,000 individuals deemed eligible to file for compensation under the Pigford II settlement. A department spokesperson said these individuals in fact have not yet submitted their claims under Pigford II.

“Once the funds are appropriated by Congress and the settlement is approved, the $1.25 billion will be distributed among those members of the 66,000 eligible claimants whom a third-party neutral claims administrator determines to be eligible for funds, in an effort to keep the process fair and void of politics,” said the spokesperson.

When asked why there are 66,000 eligible claimants–while the Census Bureau says the number of African American farmers in the United States peaked at 33,000 during the period in question–a Justice Department spokesperson said since the alleged discrimination took place over a 16-year period when different individuals were moving in and out of farming that using a single year, such as 1982, as a reference point “doesn’t work.”

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[“Who Wants to Be a Black Millioniare?” can be read here. Additional articles on the Pigford lawsuit are listed here.]

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