BLACK FARMERS FIGHT RACIST DISCRIMINATION FOR TEN LONG YEARS, (cut to the chase, get your compensation money sent you by calling 1-800 676-7814
THE PRESENT BATTLE - http://www.mydd.com/story/2007 OBAMA HELPING THE BLACK FARMERS GET OUT OF A TEN YEAR RUNAROUND.
Pigford: Black Farmers and Obama
by Nancy Scola, Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 05:51:03 PM EST
There's a little-noticed detail to the ongoing farm bill debate that I thought might be of some interest in the context of the presidential primary process. It has to do with Barack Obama and a uncollected restitution payments owed to many black farmers.
The deal is this. Pigford v. Glickman alleged that black farmers had faced institutional and systematic discrimination at the hands of the USDA for years and years, generation after generation. (Dan Glickman was the USDA Secretary at the time the case was filed.) In case after case, black farmers where denied loans and other lines of credit that their white counterparts were regularly granted. After years of wrangling, Pigford was finally settled in 1999 by consent decree. The USDA agreed to a process by which black farmers could apply for restitution.
All well and good, but those applications were due within six months of the settlement. It's been estimated that as many as 74,000 farmers applied for Pigford payments after the deadline. They were shut out of the settlement for good, it seemed.
And so, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been pushing for Congress to intervene and offer some relief to the farmers who were eligible for Pigford payment but somehow missed the boat. More recently, Barack Obama has gotten in front of the issue. He's co-sponsored legislation championed by the CBC in the House, with the goal of getting in passed as part of the massive Farm Bill. And he's been fairly aggressive against some inappropriate lobbying against the Pigford language by USDA employees. (The USDA is unhappy with the many millions of dollars further restitution might cost.)
In addition to the policy imperative behind Pigford language in the farm bill, it's not bad politics for Obama. Restitution is a very big deal in the rural South -- you know, places like South Carolina, Florida, and the like. It has been for many years, and the flavor of the fight for Pigford compensation is similar to other civil rights fights.
The Senate just finished marking up the farm bill. No word yet on whether Pigford language has survived the sausage making process so far. If it makes it all the way into law, and his campaign sees the political value in it, Pigford may give Obama a healthy boost in some important early states.
PAST BATTLES - 2005 - Black Farmers Press for Compensation
Ohio's Rep. Chabot to Hold Hearing Today in Cincinnati
By Malia Rulon
Monday, February 28, 2005; Page A05
Thousands of black farmers who say they have been left out of a landmark civil rights case are turning to Congress as their last hope to get compensation for years of being denied loans by the government.
"This is not discrimination that took place in the 1950s. That discrimination is taking place right now, and it took place a few years ago for me, in 1996," said John W. Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer who is president of the National Black Farmers Association. "Congress needs to help us fix this."
It was not until the early 20th century that the Senate enacted rules allowing members to end filibusters and unlimited debate. How many votes were required to invoke cloture when the Senate first adopted the rule in 1917?
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, planned a hearing today in Cincinnati on the settlement.
Chabot said a legislative solution was being considered.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), meanwhile, was continuing to work with the Agriculture Department to find a possible administrative fix, his office said.
In the 1999 case, the department agreed to pay $50,000 or more to each farmer who filed for compensation within six months. About 13,500 people have qualified for more than $830 million under this settlement.
But the Environmental Working Group and Boyd's association say as many as 66,000 black farmers missed out because they were improperly notified of the settlement and, thus, filed late claims.
Lawyers for some of the farmers say they notified their clients, but the farmers did not file for damages because they did not believe the government would pay them.
A judge last month rejected an effort by the farmers to reopen the settlement and allow those farmers' cases to be heard. However, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman in Washington left room in his decision for Congress to act.
"In this particular situation, Congress is going to have to pass legislation to allow those persons who were deemed ineligible to be eligible under the law," said James W. Myart Jr., the lead lawyer.
Myart noted that Congress already has passed special legislation to extend the statute of limitations for farmers to file claims under a law that allows for compensation for cases of discrimination.
USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said the department has worked since the 1999 settlement to change its training and business programs for minority farmers. Vernon B. Parker, head of the department's newly created Office of Civil Rights, is to testify today.
"We intend to be held accountable for our performance," Loyd said. "This isn't just something that we're giving lip service to, this is something that we take very seriously as a department."
About 200 farmers from across the country planned to attend the hearing, which represents their last chance to be heard.
"We're not asking for any handouts. We're asking to be treated like you treat large white farms or corporate farms," Boyd said. "What happened to these black farmers was wrong. And the longer this issue festers, the worse it gets."
QUITE A BIT IN THE PAST: 2004
Victory Slipping Away for Black Farmers
USDA, Justice Dept. Thwart Payouts to Most in Landmark Settlement, Report Says
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2004;
The Department of Agriculture has denied payments to almost 90 percent of black farmers who sought compensation for discrimination under a landmark court settlement the agency reached with African American growers five years ago, according to a report set for release today by a Washington-based environmental group.
A two-year investigation by the Environmental Working Group found that USDA officials contracted Justice Department lawyers to aggressively fight the farmers' claims after the settlement of the $3 billion class-action lawsuit. Of the 94,000 growers who sought restitution for discrimination in a process set up by the court, 81,000 were turned away, the report says.
The report, funded by the Ford Foundation, said the USDA's actions "willfully obstructed justice" and "deliberately undermined" the spirit of the settlement.
Vernon Parker, USDA assistant secretary for civil rights, was traveling to Yakima, Wash., to visit Latino farmers and could not comment. His spokesman, Ed Lloyd, took issue with the report's conclusion.
Lloyd said the court sought to appoint an independent arbitrator to oversee individual claims under the settlement. USDA provides information regarding each farmer's case to an arbitrator and then steps out of the way, Lloyd said.
The settlement came in a class-action lawsuit that claimed the USDA discriminated against black farmers in providing loans and other aid. Under its terms, black farmers could file for compensation along two tracks. Track A promised an automatic payment of $50,000 if a claim was approved. Track B, which provided the possibility of greater compensation, required a hearing before restitution could be made.
According to the report, about 40 percent of the 22,100 farmers whose claims were reviewed under Track A were denied. Of the 173 farmers who filed cases under Track B, only 18 won compensation. Arbitrators never reviewed an additional 72,000 claims, saying they were filed late.
Linwood Brown, who grew tobacco, corn and soybeans in Brunswick County, Va., south of Richmond, received $490,000 for his discrimination claim, but he said he was challenged at every step.
"They challenged it for four or five years, saying that wrongdoing is not the same thing as discrimination," Brown said. "They said I must be able to prove that I was discriminated against and show that a white farmer got his money on time. I was able to do that because I kept records."
Brown and John Boyd, another Virginia farmer, said discrimination in the state was routine.
"I know quite a few farmers who were turned away" even though their cases were similar to his, Brown said. "The white farmers got money on time," he said. "Black farmers didn't get money on time. We always got turned down."
Federal lawyers fought claims aggressively, the farmers said, forcing growers to present documents that were hard to find in incidents that were almost a decade old.
The Justice Department spent 56,000 hours of attorney and paralegal time challenging 129 claims, and billed USDA $12 million, according to the Environmental Working Group report.
Carolyn Cooksie, USDA deputy administrator of farm loans, said time and money was spent to have Farm Service Agency and Justice officials review the claims.
Black farmers, particularly those in the southern United States, complained of discrimination by USDA long before farmer Timothy Pigford filed a lawsuit against USDA in 1997.
During the process, other black farmers joined the suit and the agency admitted to discrimination throughout its system, which denied black farmers loans and other resources that white farmers received. Native American and Latino farmers have similar class-action claims pending against USDA.
The lawsuit came when black farmers were on the verge of extinction. There were nearly 1 million at the end of the 1920s, but fewer than 30,000 exist today.
For the farmers, many of whom were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, the settlement offered hope that they could continue farming.
Within days of hearing the settlement terms, black farmer organizations complained that their lawyers had failed them.
"The settlement is a complete failure," said Arianne Callender, a lawyer for the group, known as EWG. "In part, it was the plaintiffs' lawyers who failed them. But USDA took advantage of every aspect of the court's rules and the settlement's shortcomings to avoid responsibility."
HIGH HOPES and a petition you might send to DC. WAY IN THE PAST
Dear [Name of official here],
It has come to my attention a serious error on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. It is there policy of resisting racial equality.
In a 1999 class-action settlement with the Department of Agriculture, compensation was allotted to African-American farmers for past discrimination when applying for aid. This landmark decision recognized decades of “indifferent and blatant discrimination” in the way that the Department of Agriculture decides which farmers can receive financial aid. The judge of this settlement hailed this settlement as “”the biggest civil rights award in United States history.” $2 billion would be distributed between black farmers as compensation for the decades of outright discrimination exacted upon them by the Department of Agriculture. Many of these farmers were expected to get $50,000 each, for maintenance of their farm, and in order to pay off serious debt.
Unfortunately, the Department of Agriculture opposed this decision. They opposed, in essence, ending the decade-old economic disparity between white and black farmers created by racist views within the Department itself. In response, the Department of Agriculture basically took the law into its own hands…
After the court ruling allowed compensation for African-American farmers, a massive campaign was initiated by the plaintiffs of the case to alert African-American farmers of their eligibility for compensation. It was a huge success, with 35,500 people estimated filing their claims on time. Out of the 111,504 people who have filed since October 1999, only an estimated 12% have received compensation.
To date, only $814 million of the $2 billion allotted as compensation for African-American farmers have been dispersed. Out of the 35,626 African-American farmers who filed their claims on time in order to receive compensation in the October of 1999, only 61% have thus far been approved to receive compensation. This means that 40% of applicants from the October deadline were denied compensation for childish reasons, such as the Department of Agriculture’s strong resistance to the ruling. 68,078 African-Americans filed claims before a September 2000 special deadline for those who could not file before October 1999. Out of those 68,078 people, only 3% were even considered. Every single one of the 7,800 people who filed after this deadline were flat out denied.
We ask today that you alleviate our concerns, and take action on this critical minority issue. Thank you very much for your time.
WAY IN THE PAST 1998
SAME OLE SAME OLE
By Dianne Mathiowetz
The issue of racist discrimination against Black farmers took center stage at the week-long NAACP national convention held in Atlanta that concluded on July 16, 1998.
More than 100 African American farmers and their supporters rallied at the Russell Federal Building. They
then marched into the July 15 session of the NAACP convention. That plenary featured leaders of the Black
farmers' movement and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman.
Scheduled plenary speakers Ralph Paige of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Gary Grant of Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association and John Boyd of the Black Farmers Association addressed convention delegates.
J.L. Chestnut, head of a legal team suing the Department of Agriculture over its racist lending practices, also
addressed the convention. Chestnut, a prominent civil rights attorney, gave an update on the history-making lawsuit that is seeking $3.5 billion in damages.
In his address to the convention, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman admitted that the history of racism is
pervasive and that his department has not done enough to eradicate racist practices.
Second only to the Defense Department in size, the USDA operates many of its programs through local committees in each county. These committees are usually composed of the wealthiest and most powerful farmers.
This "good old boy" network reinforces the climate of injustice and inequality found in the private sector.
Black farmers are rapidly becoming extinct. In 1910, Black
Americans owned a total of 15 million acres of land, mostly
in the Southern states. Today, approximately 18,000 Black
farmers own a total of 2.3 million acres.
Every day, foreclosures and tax sales reduce those numbers
as farms held for generations are sold to wealthy white
farmers or agribusiness, or are placed in federal inventory.
Farming is a high-risk business with success or failure
often dependent on the weather. Access to credit,
distribution networks and the latest scientific and
technological advances are essential ingredients in modern
For Black farmers, racism as practiced by private and
public institutions becomes the toughest obstacle to
Historically, local lending institutions have declined to
advance Black farmers necessary credit.
The mandate of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is to be
the lender of last resort. However, the current lawsuit
compiled ample evidence filed by over 500 Black farmers to
expose the role of government agencies in illegally denying
them credit and acting against their interests.
For example, several farmers from Georgia, Virginia, Texas
and North Carolina spoke about how Farm Service agents
refused to give them loan application papers or lost their
Statistics released by the Department of Agriculture show
that on average, applications by white farmers were
processed in 60 days. For Black farmers, the average length
of time for a loan to be processed was 220 days.
Such a delay often means the loss of a crop and the loss
of their land.
The farmers brought the following demands to the NAACP
1. Full funding of the Minority Farmers Rights Act, which
would provide technical assistance to African American,
Latino, Native and Asian farmers. Part of the 1990 Farm
Bill, it authorized $10 million a year to upgrade
operations. Congress has budgeted $2 to $3 million a year
2. Repeal of the credit provision of the 1996 Farm Bill
which prohibits any loans to farmers who have previously
participated in a "write-down" program. In 1987, in response
to a weather crisis that was destroying agricultural
communities, Congress offered a program to reduce debt owed
to the USDA. Farmers are now denied all credit if they took
advantage of the "write down" almost a dozen years ago. This
is particularly damaging to Black farmers, who often cannot
get commercial loans.
3. Lifting of the two-year Statute of Limitations on
discrimination complaints. Since the NAACP meeting,
legislation lifting the statute of limitations passed the
Senate, and reportedly will be signed soon by Clinton.
4. Equity in funding for 1890 Land Grant Institutions.
These historically Black schools which serve the African
American agricultural community have been under-funded for
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