On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged Congress to fund the Pigford settlement that has gone without action for months.
Vilsack’s statement says “black farmers throughout the country unfortunately faced discrimination in past decades when trying to obtain services from USDA. This discrimination is well-documented, the courts have affirmed this discrimination, and Congress has twice acknowledged the need to settle with those who have suffered from this discrimination. It is now time for Congress to pass the funding so the victims of this discrimination can get the opportunity to receive the compensation that they are due.
“While members of Congress have noted the bipartisan support for this legislation, it is time for Congress to turn their support into action and fund the settlement agreement once and for all. The time for Congressional action to fund the settlement agreement is running out, and the victims of this discrimination should not need to wait a day longer. Congress should not leave today without exhausting every option for passing legislation that provides for the funding.”
Congress has failed to fund, or even vote on, the $1.15 billion Pigford settlement that was announced last February. The settlement would put to bed a second round of legal action brought by black farmers claiming long-term discrimination by the USDA.
In an August interview with Delta Farm Press, John Boyd, president of the Black Farmers Association, said September action on the settlement was urgently needed. To draw attention to the situation, in mid-September Boyd said he’d drive a tractor into Washington, D.C., and hold a press conference.
To read the Boyd interview, see Pigford needs September action.
Days into Boyd’s slow drive, a Senate Agriculture Committee press release said several farm-state legislators — including Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and North Carolina Sen. Kay R. Hagen — would propose a bill to “fund the $1.15 billion settlement that black farmers reached with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack in February.”
Lincoln, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said “the time is long overdue to fund the discrimination settlement for African American farmers who have experienced decades of injustice. Farmers should receive equal access and treatment in the delivery of USDA’s programs and services and we must finally close this chapter of discrimination within USDA. While funding this settlement will not erase the anxiety and frustrations so many hard-working farmers experienced, it will help compensate their financial losses and finally begin laying the foundation in restoring their faith in the United States government.”
“We want to ensure black farmers in our country finally receive the justice they deserve,” said Hagan.“More than 4,000 African-American farmers in North Carolina and over 75,000 nationwide have been discriminated against and denied just compensation for decades. Today, I join with my colleagues from Louisiana and Arkansas … to introduce a bill to fund the settlement once and for all, and we are working to send this language to the president.”
“This injustice has gone on for far too long,” said Landrieu. “The U.S. Congress needs to make this right and the reality is that we are running out of options. That is why Sen. Hagan, Sen. Lincoln and I have introduced a stand-alone bill today. We will try to attach this bill to any moving legislative vehicle in the Senate. But if the political environment is such that no bill is moving, Senate leadership will need to call up this stand alone bill and debate it on its merits. I think that Senate leadership is going to need to take a good, long look at that option.”