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Senate Passes Black Farmer Payment Bill

posted on November 24, 2010

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. A key government report this week revealed the U.S. economy grew slightly faster in the 3rd quarter of 2010 than analysts originally believed.

In an upward revision of previous data, the Commerce Department reported the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.5 percent annual rate from July through September. Though modest, the gain represents a 25-percent increase over initial estimates released last month.

But the beleaguered housing sector continues to weigh heavily on the economic recovery. According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales declined 2.2 percent in October and were down nearly 40 percent from their peak in September of 2005.

The median price for a home sold in October fell to $170,500, down nearly one percent from a year ago. Prices continue to be depressed by weak sales and a huge supply of unsold homes... ...Which may explain why orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket durable goods plunged more than 3 percent last month in their largest decline in 21 months.

But, in a sign that may bode well for the holiday shopping season, U.S. consumers boosted their spending nearly 3 percent from June through September. That's their largest quarterly increase in nearly four years and it's a significant development because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the domestic economy.

Experts say the U.S. economy would need to expand by 5 percent for a full year to push the unemployment rate down by a full percentage point. But for all of 2010, the economy is expected to grow by 2.6 percent.

While the U.S. economy may not be growing rapidly, America's national debt is. And this week the U.S. Senate paved the way for more than $1.1 billion in new spending to settle a landmark Civil Rights case.

Senate Passes Black Farmer Payment Bill

Under legislation passed by the Senate, black farmers who claim discrimination at the hands of the Agriculture Department would receive almost $1.2 billion. Native Americans who claim they were swindled out of royalties by the Interior Department would split $3.4 billion. Both cases have languished for more than a decade, and plaintiffs say beneficiaries are dying before the cases reach a final resolution.

Republicans repeatedly objected to the federal settlements when they were added to larger pieces of legislation on the grounds of deficit spending. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid satisfied conservative complaints by finding spending offsets to cover the $4.6 billion price tag.

For black farmers, long-standing complaints of racial discrimination by farm loan officers at USDA were supposedly settled in a 1999 landmark civil rights deal.

Dan Glickman, USDA Sec. 1995-2001: "We are here to announce an historic agreement for both the USDA and, I believe, for our country. It is an agreement that will close a painful chapter in USDA's history."

USDA agreed to pay black farmers a record $2.3 billion. But a 2004 independent investigation by the Environmental Working Group discovered nearly 80 percent of applicants were denied any legal remedy.

Last week's Senate victory for black farmers has come nearly two years into an Obama Administration hailed by proponents as the best opportunity yet to resolve the legal dispute. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed the issue of racial discrimination during his first speech to federal employees in 2009.

Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "We have been criticized by Congressional leaders. We have been criticized by groups and we have been sued - repeatedly over the decades. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes resources, it doesn't have to be and it shouldn't be."

(January 2009)

Vilsack praised last week's $1.2 billion settlement with black farmers, a sentiment echoed by his boss, President Obama. After the bill passed, Obama said:

"While these legislative achievements reflect important progress, they also serve to remind us that much work remains to be done."

National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd, a long-time proponent of the USDA payments, recently criticized the President for moving too slowly on a remedy for black farmers. But this week, Boyd praised the decision as "long overdue."

The bill must now pass the Democratically-controlled lame-duck House of Representatives before receiving the President's signature.

Tags: African Americans agriculture Congress farmers government news race racism Tom Vilsack