by Trymaine Lee
President Barack Obama called a judge’s approval of a $1.2 billion government settlement with black farmers who for decades had been denied loans and assistance from the Agriculture Department, a step forward in “addressing an unfortunate chapter in USDA’s civil rights history.”
This is the second round of settlements in a case filed in 1997, which alleged that thousands of black farmers had been discriminated against between 1983 and 1997. This round is directed at farmers who were not awarded payment because of missed filing deadlines. The judge said payments would likely be dispersed in a year or so, after neutral parties reviewed the individual claims.
“This agreement will provide overdue relief and justice to African American farmers, and bring us closer to the ideals of freedom and equality that this country was founded on,” Obama said in a statement.
“So many farmers had given up hope that this would ever come to pass,” said John Boyd, the head of the National Black Farmers Association, according to CNN. “It’s gonna take about a year to run all the farmers through the system. Each case will have to be looked at in a forum that’s also looked at by the court. Once the cases are checked, then the farmers start to get their money.”
And during a briefing this afternoon, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that the settlement helps “African-American farmers to focus on the future and brings us one step closer to giving these farmers a chance to have their claims heard.”
Blacks now make up about 1 percent of the nation’s farmers and ranchers, according to the USDA. In 1920, blacks made up roughly 14 percent of the nation’s farmers.
The federal government has acknowledged historic racial bias and in 1999 settled a class-action lawsuit that alleged discrimination in government loans.
Earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called the settlement a waste of federal money. King likened the settlement to “modern-day reparations” and said that much of the settlement “was just paid out in fraudulent claims.” King went on to criticize the Obama administration’s plan to resolve separate lawsuits filed by Hispanic and female farmers.
“That’s another at least $1.3 billion,” King said during a news conference after the pair toured flooded area in Iowa near the Missouri River. “I’d like to apply that money to the people that are under water right now.”
Bachmann seconded King’s criticism, chiming in that, “When money is diverted to inefficient projects, like the Pigford project, where there seems to be proof-positive of fraud, we can’t afford $2 billion in potentially fraudulent claims when that money can be used to benefit the people along the Mississippi River and the Missouri River.”