NAACP Urges Support for Black Farmer Settlement

By Ronny Dorry
Ronny Dorry
Ronny Dorry
August 12, 2010 Updated: August 13, 2010

WASHINGTON—The NAACP is rallying support for African-American farmers who suffered losses as a result of racial discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 1983 to 1997. The NAACP recently issued an alert encouraging people to contact their state senators, urging them to back legislation that would appropriate $1.25 billion for the effort.

The Pigford II Settlement, the second part of a class action lawsuit filed against the USDA, would provide awards of up to $50,000 in fast tracked payments and debt relief, or up to $250,000 awarded after a more thorough review process.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the $1.25 billion settlement on Feb. 18. Although officials requested the sum in an emergency appropriation to be combined with the $100 million authorized in the 2008 farm bill, funds have yet to be allotted.

“Next week another Black farmer will lose his farm. Others are at risk of not living to see justice. These farmers have waited for years, and simply cannot wait any longer for final resolution," said Dr. John Boyd president of the National Black Farmers Association in a statement following the Feb. settlement announcement.

According to a congressional Research Service report, Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) introduced an amendment to appropriate funds to pay for the Pigford II claims, however the amendment was blocked by a vote that found the amendment irrelevant to the bill.

African-American farmers filed two suits against the USDA in 1997, Pigford vs. Glickman and Brewington vs. Glickman. The original Pigford Settlement was approved in April 1999, successfully awarding compensation to African-American farmers. The suit claimed that the USDA was racially discriminatory as evidenced by their failure to investigate and respond to complaints from 1983 to 1997.

In addition, black farmers claimed that they were denied USDA farm loans and assistance, or forced to wait longer for approval than non-minority farmers. Black farmers also asserted that they faced foreclosure because the USDA denied them loans and debt restructuring. A backlog of complaints mounted after the USDA closed its civil rights office in 1983.

A USDA commissioned study in 1994 found that among all participants in the Farm Service Agency (FSA) disaster payment programs, 97 percent of payments went to white farmers while 1 percent went to black farmers. The study did not find a reason for this and other discrepancies between white and black farmers due to “gross deficiencies” in USDA data collection.

Ronny Dorry