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Black Farmers Legal Saga Still Unresolved

posted on February 18, 2010

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Despite the loss of nearly eight-and-a-half million jobs since the recession began in late 2007, inflation appears to be in check and the economy continues to improve.

According to the Labor Department, the Consumer Price Index increased at a lower than predicted rate in January. Stripping out the volatile food and energy sectors, the so-called Core CPI actually FELL for first time in nearly three decades.

Though lower inflation numbers usually would not prompt fiscal policy makers to raise interest rates, the Federal Reserve did exactly that, this week, hiking the emergency loan rate by one-quarter-of-one-percent. The word made some market watchers wonder if the move precedes an increase in the PRIME rate -- but Fed officials say there are no such plans.

The New York-based Conference Board's Index of Leading Economic Indicators continued a ten-month rally, led by improvement in financial markets and an increase in manufacturing.

And at the end of the holiday-shortened week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished higher on all the news.

As America continues to recover from what some are calling the "Great Recession," experts say it will be years before the labor market fully recovers. But if you're one of the millions in the unemployment line, it's difficult to be patient.

One group of Americans, however, is running out of patience with the federal government.

More than a decade ago, USDA agreed to pay African-American farmers $2.3 billion in the largest civil rights settlement in the nation's history. The amount was later reduced to $1 BILLION and more than 50,000 farmers made claims on the funds. The Obama Administration is poised to get things moving. But, to date, only a small portion of the settlement has been distributed.


Black Farmers Legal Saga Still Unresolved

Black Farmer: "I know these things is not fair. Even Dr. King said, 'something is wrong when one man can't set at the counter with another man...' Something is wrong when USDA discriminates against black farmers..."

Dozens of black farmers took to the snow-filled streets of Washington this week protesting decades of racial discrimination and more than 10 years of legal disputes with the federal government.

Dr. John Boyd, President National Black Farmers Association: "...I also have for members of Congress, "Forget-me-nots." I put on the picture of the black farmers who couldn't be here today, that don't have the money... For the black farmers who have died waiting for justice, we ask Congress, Forget-me-not..."

Lawrence Lucas, USDA Coalition of Minority Employees: "Based on the information that they put out themselves, they have not resolved, or solved one black farmer case since this administration took office. That is a false promise. That is a false hope. We're challenging the administation to do better in it's commitment to farmers"

USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack publicly voiced his concern of previous racial discrimination issues when he first assumed the helm of USDA in January 2009.

Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "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."

But members of the National Black Farmers Association claim they have heard these assurances before without any concrete results. NBFA President John Boyd pledges to remain skeptical until all black farmers have received a legal and financial remedy.

Dr. John Boyd, NBFA: "I'm a bit disappointed, absolutely. Do I still support the president? Yes, I do. I support him, but I want him to step up and really pressure Congress to do this for our black farmers."

African-American farmers filed suit against USDA in the 1990's, alleging racial discrimination by federal farm loan officers. USDA settled with the plaintiffs in 1999, agreeing to pay a record $2.3 billion in damages.

Sec. Dan Glickman, USDA 1995-2001: "I'm embarrassed by some of what's happened in the past. There's no question. But now our job is to go forth and correct the best that we can."

But subsequent independent investigations discovered an overwhelming number of applicants were denied any legal remedy as nearly 65,000 claimants were turned away.

During the Bush Administration, countless black farmers protested in Washington, hoping to end the long-running dispute. Newfound optimism for a settlement followed President Barack Obama's election and his previous support for USDA payments while serving in the U.S. Senate. But delays and legal maneuvers have plagued the supposed "swift justice" for black farmers.

Dr. John Boyd, President National Black Farmers Association: "I'm hopin' and prayin' that God will touch speaker Pelosi, that God will touch Senator Harry Reid and other leaders in Congress."

It seems those voices were heard this week as the latest impasse between black farmers, USDA, and the Justice Department are poised to reach a conclusion. According to a new Obama Administration agreement, claimants may reapply for financial damages with expedited $50,000 payments or can seek $250,000 through a longer legal process.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: "The Congress will need to appropriate $1.15 billion of this settlement total. The president has made that request in a budget amendment recently submitted to Congress." In response to this week's protests, President Obama released the following statement:

"I applaud Secretary Vilsack for his efforts to modernize operations at USDA, as well as the work of the Justice Department in bringing these long-ignored claims of African American farmers to a rightful conclusion. I look forward to a swift resolution to this issue, so that the families affected can move on with their lives."

Despite President Obama's budget recommendations in favor of paying $1.25 billion to black farmers, CONGRESS has YET to approve the measure.


Tags: African Americans agriculture Barack Obama farmers news protests race racism Tom Vilsack