Friday, May 8, 2009

Bill would address USDA bias against black farmers

Published Tuesday, May 5, 2009 7:00 am
by Herbert L. White>

A bill introduced today in the U.S. Senate would compensate black farmers for government discrimination in lending.

Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa are co-sponsoring legislation that would pay African American farmers money owed them under Pigford v. Glickman, a lawsuit that was initially settled in 1999.

The Pigford Claims Funding Act of 2009, introduced by Grassley, would help more than 4,000 eligible black farmers in North Carolina.

“Years ago, thousands of African American farmers were found to have been unfairly discriminated against when applying for loans, credit, and other forms of financial help to ensure their farm’s success,” said Hagan. “The 2008 Farm Bill passed without adequately addressing the costs required to settle the claims in the Pigford case, and ultimately, help right the injustices these farmers faced so many years ago. This legislation seeks to correct that problem, and ensures the farmers who were discriminated against receive what is fairly due to them.”

Pigford v. Glickman, a class action lawsuit that was settled with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found that thousands of African American farmers were discriminated against when applying for loans, credit, and other financial help that would maintain their farms. The lawsuit was filed by Timothy Pigford of North Carolina.

“This is a huge step in the right direction for 75,000 black farmers who have been waiting patiently for justice. This bill would provide relief for those who have been hurting for decades,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.

The Farm Bill of 2008 capped payouts for the Pigford settlement at $100 million, which would leave successful petitioners without compensation should the fund run out.

The Grassley-Hagan bill ensures that once the first $100 million runs out, eligible petitioners will be able to collect damages. The legislation also allows for legal fees to be paid from the fund in addition to anti-fraud protection regarding claims.

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