In 1999, the Agriculture Department agreed to settle a landmark civil rights case with the nation's black farmers. Thousands of African-American claimants said they were discriminated against by federal farm loan officers.
To this day though, many of the litigants say they've never received a penny of the record $2.3 billion legal remedy.
Provisions of the current Farm Bill led some to believe their federal settlement would be reopened but recent legal moves by the Obama Administration to restrict payments threatened to further wrap the case in red tape.
Last week, representatives of the National Black Farmers Association, or NBFA, demonstrated in Washington D.C.
NBFA members demanded the government properly close this chapter in USDA history and it appears Washington power brokers were listening.
John Boyd, President – National Black Farmers Association: "If you want the news reports to end, then pay the farmers. I hope this is the last time I drag this mule up the road."
As Market to Market reported last week, members of the National Black Farmers Association, or NBFA, recently protested in Washington. Demanding additional payments by the federal government, the demonstrators claimed USDA still has not satisfied the requirements of a landmark 1999 civil rights settlement.
Their calls were apparently heard in the halls of Congress and at the White House. This week, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley swiftly drafted a measure to open the Justice Department's permanent judgment fund for black farmer cases. In his statement, the Iowa Republican said: (Mark, Please read his statement)
"We've been working too hard on this for too many years to let bureaucratic procedure and mumbo-jumbo discriminate against African American farmers and ranchers again."
But Grassley's measure may not be necessary. Unveiling a massive fiscal year 2010 budget proposal this week, President Barack Obama recommended $1.25 billion to settle the long-standing black farmer lawsuits. Obama said he hopes the funds would "close this chapter" in USDA's history.
While $1.25 Billion represents a substantial legal fund for African-American farmers, some estimates peg the total cost of uncapped settlements as high as $3 billion.
John Boyd, President of the NBFA, hailed the move by the Obama Administration as a "step in the right direction." But Boyd added that it's important to make sure that no eligible farmers are left out.
However, there is no guarantee the $1.25 billion figure will pass Congressional scrutiny. Many lawmakers have heavily criticized President Obama's $3 Trillion budget. Others also believe there should be no funding cap for successful black farmer claims.