Black farmers get second wave of payments from bias suit
By Zenitha Prince
Special to the Trice Edney Newswire from the Afro American Newspaper
A second wave of payouts has begun streaming to Black farmers from the settlement of a lawsuit, commonly referred to as “Pigford II,” against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Between 1983 and 1997, thousands of African American famers suffered rampant discrimination at USDA’s Farm Service Agency offices, which denied them loans solely because of their race, resulting in severe financial and real estate losses.
Those farmers filed a class action lawsuit against the USDA secretary at the time, Pigford v. Glickman, resulting in a settlement of $1 billion that went to about 13,000 farmers.
But about 74,000 other farmers, who filed late, said they either didn’t get notification of an initial lawsuit or lacked the resources and time with which to respond.
The Obama administration, under the leadership of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, led efforts to correct the historical wrong as part of one of his top priorities, to “move USDA into (a) new era on civil rights.”
Through intense lobbying from the administration, the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats, the 2008 farm bill allowed for those additional claimants to be heard, and in December 2010, Congress appropriated a total of $1.25 billion to provide restitution to successful claimants. A U.S. District Court’s approval of the settlement in October 2011 moved those farmers one step closer to receiving their due.
“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,” President Obama said at the time.
Lead attorneys for the farmers — State Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma, Ala., and Greg Francis of Orlando, Fla. — briefed leaders of the Network of Black Farm Groups and Advocates about the progress of the claims via a telephone conference in July.
According to call participant John Zippert, director of program operations for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the lawyers said the lawsuit’s claims administrator in Portland, Ore., had made decisions on almost all of the 33,000 non-duplicate claims they received and that checks could be in the mail by August.
Sanders said that 17,800 of the Track “A” claimants had been successful and another 800 claims were still being reviewed to see if they were duplicates or multiple claims filed on the same farmland, Zippert reported. The remaining claims were unsuccessful, and no Track “B” claims, for higher monetary damages, had been approved.
All of the Track “A” successful claimants, he added, will receive the full damage payment of $50,000, in addition to payments of $12,500 to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to cover that individual’s federal income tax liability for the damage award.
CBC Chairman Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) welcomed a final resolution to the decades-long litigation.
“Nearly 14 years after the first Pigford case was filed, I am pleased this chapter of discrimination in the history of the Department of Agriculture is closed,” she said, “and bureaucracy will no longer keep these farmers from receiving their due justice.”