Black farmers press Congress on bias suit

April 22, 2010 at 9:12 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) -- Black U.S. farmers are frustrated waiting for Congress to pay a class-action settlement over racial prejudice in farm loans, a farmers group head said.

"We spend a billion dollars on a jet to go bomb somebody. We're talking about a billion dollars to help feed our country, and I just don't see why Congress and the president can't go ahead and find (the money). It is an emergency," Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association President Gary Grant said.

The class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture established a pattern of racial discrimination in the department's allocation of farm loans and assistance from 1983-97.

The lawsuit, Pigford vs. Glickman, ended with a settlement in which the Agriculture Department agreed to pay some 80,000 African-American farmers $50,000 each if they had tried to get USDA loans or assistance but failed, despite meeting qualifications.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the farmers could also seek up to $250,000 for actual damages from the bias, CNN reported.

U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to provide $1.15 billion to pay the claims but a March 31 deadline to appropriate the money passed and Congress now says it will come up with a plan by the end of May.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said Democratic lawmakers had a "total commitment" to ensuring the settlement is paid. But he said they needed to work out how to pay for the settlement under the congressional PAYGO rule, requiring the money be available rather than borrowed.

Another option would be to designate the settlement an emergency, which would make it exempt from PAYGO, Butterfield said.

The farmers have until May 31 to withdraw from the proposed settlement and pursue independent claims against the USDA.

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