Pigford price tag doubles estimate

It's no longer on the front pages, but that doesn't mean it's over. Pushed into a dusty room with other issues forgotten by the American public, Pigford vs. Glickman still requires a daily diet of taxpayer dollars. And its appetite for federal cash is hardly sated.

Originally, when Pigford vs. Glickman (commonly known as “the black farmers' lawsuit”) was settled in 1999 to amend alleged USDA racist practices, U.S. taxpayers were told the cost would be around $300 million. In government money, USDA officials insinuated, that amount would be relatively easy to deal with and would be painless.

The settlement allows claimants two options in resolving their cases: Track A and Track B. Winning a Track A claim before an adjudicator (which is the route chosen by an overwhelming majority of claimants) is easier and means a $50,000 payment, loan forgiveness and prime future loan positioning. Track B claims have more-stringent evidence requirements, but there's no cap on monetary awards.

There were early warning signs that the settlement was going to cost much more than the original estimate. Few complained when the ending figure was revised to a solid $400 million to take care of around 4,000 claimants. Three years, hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of claimants later, taxpayers may have a bone to pick.

Last July, under the Freedom of Information Act, Delta Farm Press requested USDA release data on all costs related to the lawsuit thus far. We asked for information on anything taxpayers are picking up the tab for.

The information was eventually supplied in two packets — one in January and one in early March. Here's what we found.

TRACK A BREAKDOWN: As of Feb. 28, the total paid out for Track A cases is nearly $616 million. Nearly 13,000 claimants have gotten a $50,000 payment.

For the South and Midwest, the breakdown numbers provided by USDA reached only through Aug. 8, 2001. At that time, a total of $569 million had been paid out in Track A cases. The numbers included:

  • Alabama had 4,253 Track A decisions rendered with 1,444 denied and 2,809 approved. Nearly 2,600 claimants received nearly $128.5 million in $50,000 payments. The balance of the prevailing claimants received smaller payments.

  • Arkansas had 1,983 total Track A decisions with 761 denied and 1,222 approved. Of those, 1,183 claimants received $50,000 payments totaling a shade over $59 million.

  • Louisiana had 967 decisions with 523 denied and 444 approved. Of those, 433 received $50,000 payments for a total of over $21.5 million.

  • Missouri had 139 decisions with 72 denied and 67 approved. Of those, 65 received $50,000 payments for a total of $3.25 million.

  • Mississippi had 4,201 decisions with 1,739 denied and 2,462 approved. Of those, 2,358 received $50,000 for a total of nearly $118 million.

  • Tennessee had 630 decisions with 248 denied and 382 approved. Of those, 375 received $50,000 for a total of nearly $19 million.

DEBTS CANCELLED: As of last Nov. 8, debts cancelled in Track A cases totaled a bit over $12.5 million. Of that, the following states had $1 million or more in debts cancelled: Arkansas at $2.2 million; Georgia at $1.25 million; Louisiana at $1.1 million; Mississippi at $3.5 million; Texas at $1.1 million

ADJUDICATORS, ARBITRATORS AND MONITORS: As of Jan. 31, 2002, the numbers from fiscal year 1999 through fiscal year 2002 show the following:

  • The facilitator/adjudicator has been paid nearly $30 million.
  • The arbitrator has been paid nearly $2.4 million.
  • The monitor has been paid over $13.5 million.
  • File management/review has cost nearly $6.5 million.
  • Contractor assistance for processing invoice payments has cost $17,611.
  • Department of Justice lawyers have cost $500,000.
  • Additional legal assistance has cost nearly $236,000

BOTTOM LINE: While all the numbers supplied by USDA aren't up-to-date, it can be safely said that the original estimate of $300 million or $400 million needed to resolve Pigford vs. Glickman was grossly underestimated. Using the numbers provided (including the $615 million cited by USDA as what Track A $50,000 payments have cost) the grand total thus far is $680 million and change. And it should be noted that the $680 million cited does not include Track B payments, current cases under appeal or claimant attorney fees.

e-mail: [email protected].

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