Washington, DC, United States (AHN) – Beneficiaries of a $1.25 billion settlement of a discrimination case between the government and black farmers have begun receiving notifications, bringing a decades-old class action lawsuit a step closer to conclusion.
The Agriculture Department settled the historic case, known as Pigford II, in early 2009 but appropriation from Congress was delayed over Republican concerns about fraudulent claims and the costs of the settlements during a recession.
The settlement is the second one reached with black farmers, led by Timothy Pigford, who filed a class-action suit in 1997 alleging racial discrimination in farm loan programs dating back to 1983.
The government paid out $1 billion in 1999 to more than 15,000 farmers in the settlement known as Pigford I. However, about 72,000 missed the filing deadline for claims, leading to another settlement and allegations of fraud from conservatives.
Lawmakers appropriated $100 million for the Pigford II case in 2008 through a farm bill, leaving $1.15 billion that still required approval. Last December, a bill appropriating the remaining amount was signed into law despite GOP opposition.
House Republicans led by Reps. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) and Steve King (R-IA) had sought to withhold funding, citing fraud in the claims process and in spite of assurances from Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack that the bill includes protections against abuse.
A December 2010 report from the Congressional Research Service also confirmed arguments by black farmers that the USDA census on farmers in the period covered by the case was inaccurate. According to the report, the census failed to account for farmers who rented farmland and those who were not actually farmers because they tried to farm but were denied loans.
The Pigford II settlement still requires final court approval, which will be handed down during a hearing on Sept. 1. Following the ruling, each claim will be reviewed, making payments unlikely before late 2012.
The filing deadline for claims may be as early as the end of February next year. Beneficiaries who oppose provisions of the settlement may file their objections by Aug. 12.
View full post on All Stories