U. S. House passes funding to settle Pigford II: sends legislation to the President for signature

Black farmer in field surveying his crops
By John Zippert,

By a vote of 256 to 152, the U. S. House of Representatives passed the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 which contains $1.15 billion in funding for payment of “late claims” in the Pigford II Black farmers class action lawsuit.
The Senate passed the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 on November 19, 2010 after several months of debate and stalling by Republican senators.
The legislation now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. The President plans to sign it on Wednesday which will clear the way for the Federal District Judge Paul Friedman to approve the legal settlement and set in motion the process for review and payment of pending late claims in the case.
The $1.15 billion in the Claims Settlement Act will be added to the $100 million previously approved by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill to provide a total settlement fund of $1.25 billion to pay all costs – legal, administrative and payments to eligible farmers – in the Pigford II case.

History of Pigford Case

This case arises from the original Pigford v. Glickman Black farmers class action lawsuit against the U. S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination in the provision of agricultural loans and other services. This lawsuit was initiated in 1997 and settled in 1999 by USDA at the urging of President Bill Clinton.
22,000 Black farmers submitted claims under Pigford I during the six month claim period from April 14 to October 12, 1999. The Pigford Consent Decree in Section 5g provided a late claim period from October 12 to September 15, 2000 for Black farmers who had “ extraordinary reasons” for not filing their claim in the original claims period.
65,000 Black farmers filed during the late claim period. Only 2,000 of these claimants were allowed into the case. Most “late claim filers” were summarily denied by Michael Lewis, Chief Arbitrator in the Pigford I case. These late filers never were given an opportunity to present their claims in the case for payment.
Many other Black farmers filed what are now considered “late-late claims” in the case, after the September 15, 2000 late claim deadline.
Since 2000, these Black farmers who were not allowed to present claims in the case and Black farm organizations that represent and advocate for them have been working to get these farmers back into the case to have their actual claims reviewed and processed for payment.
After countless meetings, letters, hearings, demonstrations and other advocacy, the Black farmers achieve a breakthrough when the Black Congressional Caucus was able to insert language in the 2008 Farm Bill to provide a new cause of action for late claim filers and a $100 million dollar appropriation as the starting point for settlement of the outstanding late claims.
Once the Farm Bill was approved, a group of lawyers for the farmers initiated the Pigford II case and went back to the Federal District Court to win justice and payments for the “late claim and late-late claim filers in the case.

Obama Administration settles case

In February 2010, President Obama?s administration reached the $1.25 billion settlement with the Pigford II claimants subject to a Congressional appropriation to pay for the settlement.
Black farmer advocates have been working with Congress since the Spring of 2010 to pass the funding for the Pigford II settlement. The Congress added settlement of the long-standing Cobell case, an Indian land trust matter for $3.4 billion, and settlement of four tribal water disputes in Arizona to develop the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 which has finally passed during the current lame-duck session of Congress.
President Obama, commenting on the Senate passage said, “I am pleased that today, the House has joined the Senate in passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010. This important legislation will fund the agreements reached in the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by African American farmers, and the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans over the management of Indian trust accounts and resources. I want to thank Attorney General Holder and Secretaries Salazar and Vilsack for all their work to reach this outcome, and I applaud Congress for acting in a bipartisan fashion to bring this painful chapter in our nation?s history to a close.
“While today?s vote demonstrates important progress, we must remember that much work remains to be done. And my Administration will continue our efforts to resolve claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers and others in a fair and timely manner.”
Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack said, “ Since my first day as Secretary of Agriculture in January 2009, President Obama and I have made resolving USDA?s troubled civil rights record one of our top priorities. Today we have taken an important step forward in this work as the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 to finally allow USDA to turn the page on past discrimination against black farmers. The inequities many faced are well-documented and affirmed in the courts; however, the question of compensation has lingered.
“The Claims Settlement Act will allow those that have been waiting to get the relief they deserve and have long been promised. USDA has worked with Congress to include strong protections against waste, fraud, and abuse and ensure that only deserving applicants are reimbursed under this settlement.”
Ralph Paige, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives commented, “ We are pleased that the U. S. Senate has joined the House in approving funding for the settlement of the Pigford II late claim cases.
“We are a step closer to resolution of these long-standing and long over due cases and record of discrimination against Black farmers. There is still a road ahead and a process before Black farmers will see justice and payment of damages. I expect it will take until the later part of next year – 2011 – before farmers will receive payments in this case.
“We applaud the Congress, the President, and Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, for their actions in this case and we urge them to work toward resolution of the their outstanding cases of discrimination against USDA by farmers and employees.”


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