Black farmers' quest for justice draws to a close
Reuters reports that black American farmers are rushing to beat a May 11 deadline to file racial discrimination claims against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its lending practices.
In 2010, Harvest Public Media reporter Jessica Naudziunas covered the story of how black farmers were still working to bring a $1.25 billion government settlement to closure ("In Missouri's bootheel, black farmers are still waiting on unfilled promises"). The settlement received final approval in October 2011 after years of litigation in which black farmers accused the USDA of ignoring their complaints about discriminatory lending practices throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Many farmers missed an earlier deadline to file claims. Several groups have requested an extension of the May 11 deadline.
From this week’s Reuters story:
For those filing claims to shares of the settlement fund before the new May 11 deadline —as many as 40,000 farmers and their heirs — there is a sense of relief, if not of justice.
"Justice is a very personal thing," said the farmers' co-lead counsel, Gregorio Francis of Florida-based Morgan & Morgan PA.
"Many of these farmers lost their land and their livelihoods. With the settlement, there seems to be a sense that finally there's at least an acknowledgement of what was done. In that sense, there's gratitude. Is there justice? I don't know."
The department is relieved to put the case to rest.
"Agriculture Secretary (Tom) Vilsack has made it a priority to resolve all claims of discrimination against the department," said USDA spokesman Justin DeJong. "The closing of this claims process marks another milestone in (the department's) efforts to correct the wrongs of the past."
Last year the Obama administration said it would offer at least $1.3 billion to settle complaints from female and Hispanic farmers who say they faced discrimination from the USDA.
Minority News recently reported that there is growing unrest among Hispanic farmers about the proposed settlement because it is so much smaller than the settlement with black farmers. The government approved $2.2 billion for black farmers -- $1 billion in 1999 and the $1.25 billion being processed now. A lawsuit filed in March, alleges the government's settlement is discriminatory because it does not provide Hispanic farmers the same benefits as black farmers received.
The pushback by Hispanic farmers has put the federal government in an odd position, Minority News reported. Although it's been championing the resolution of the Hispanic complaints, it's also been struggling to defend it at community meetings.
Harvest Public Media will explore the concerns of Hispanic farmers as part of its "Farmer of the Future" series, which will be launched next week.
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