"Justice delayed is justice denied"
For more than 10 years, tens of thousands of black farmers have been denied justice and a share of a $1.25 billion government settlement as compensation for decades of discrimination in federal farm loan programs. Many have lost their farms waiting. Some have died waiting. And on August 5th, before going on its summer recess, the Senate prolonged the wait by failing to once again appropriate the funds to right this egregious wrong. Consistent with an unfortunate pattern that has stalled Congressional action on everything from health care reform to unemployment benefits, the Senate is stuck in a stalemate over the black farmers' settlement due to partisan bickering over how it will be financed. But, as noted in a recent Reuters news story, "The measure brought to the floor included offsets required under congressional 'pay-as-you-go' rules mandating new spending be offset with cuts elsewhere so as not to add to the deficit."
This is a clear case of political obstructionism and a violation of civil rights. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the settlement in February. President Obama included money for it in his current budget. The House of Representatives approved the funds in July. But the Senate has repeatedly refused to add its final stamp of approval. According to John Boyd, Jr., President of the National Black Farmers Association, "It shows that some of the same treatment that happened to the black farmers at the Department of Agriculture is transpiring with the Senate's inaction to help black farmers."
The original class-action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, filed in 1997 and settled in 1999, awarded $50,000 to black farmers who were denied Department of Agriculture farm loans due to racial discrimination from 1983-1997. The government has already paid out more than $1 billion to 16,000 farmers. The new funding is for payments to as many as 70,000 farmers who were denied previous payouts because they missed the deadline for filing.
The black farmers settlement bill has the support of the White House, the Agriculture Department, Senators and House members of both parties, the Congressional Black Caucus and the major civil rights organizations, including the National Urban League. The National Black Farmers Association has taken the fight to Capitol Hill on numerous occasions and has appealed to the White House for help.
When the February settlement was announced, CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee and many others thought that justice had finally arrived. In a statement then she said, "I am encouraged that today's settlement is an opportunity for black farmers who were denied the benefit of USDA loans and programs to begin to be made whole."
But justice continues to be denied. This is a travesty. The federal government has spent trillions on bailouts to banks, corporations and investment firms, but struggling black farmers have been left out in the cold. As John Boyd said, "It seems like the trains leaving the station in the Senate manage not to have the black farmers on them."
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.