Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sens. Grassley and Hagan Introduce Legislation To Support Black Farmers' Pigford Claims

Good news today for the National Black Farmers Association, and the thousands of farmers hoping to get the Pigford settlement issue re-opened. Today, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) took up the cause and introduced The Pigford Claims Funding Act of 2009, which would help more than 4,000 eligible black farmers in North Carolina. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is co-sponsor; the Act helps only farmers from her home state, but it's a good start. There's an estimated 75-80,000 farmers who would qualify for post-Pigford settlement funding, nationally.

Last week, on April 28, black farmers led by Dr. John W. Boyd, Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, staged a protest in front of USDA headquarters on the National Mall (Dr. Boyd at mic, above). The NBFA has been working for more than a decade to redress long-standing civil rights violations, in particular the 1999 Pigford v. Glickman monetary class action suit, which attempted to compensate black farmers for decades of racially discriminatory USDA lending and credit practices. The Pigford case, when settled, in reality paid only a tiny proportion of eligible farmers, because thousands of farmers missed the unannounced filing deadline or were discouraged form joining the suit. On Wednesday, the NBFA group marched up to Capitol Hill following the rally, led by Dr. Boyd--and his mule, Struggle, to meet with lawmakers. The next day, they met with Senators and USDA officials (in pic: A list of names of black farmers who are eligible for Pigford claims is unrolled at the rally, and stretches a block up the Mall).

Sen. Hagan, on the record about the Pigford Funding Act:

“Years ago, thousands of African American farmers were found to have been unfairly discriminated against when applying for loans, credit, and other forms of financial help to ensure their farm’s success. The 2008 Farm Bill passed without adequately addressing the costs required to settle the claims in the Pigford case, and ultimately, help right the injustices these farmers faced so many years ago. This legislation seeks to correct that problem, and ensures the farmers who were discriminated against receive what is fairly due to them.”

The original class action suit, Pigford v. Glickman, was filed by Timothy Pigford of North Carolina, and settled in 1999, but it rapidly became apparent that many more farmers should have been included in the suit. While still a senator, President Obama introduced legislation that got into the 2008 Farm Bill which provided an additional $100 million for black farmers. That sum was meant to be just the beginning of new USDA payouts to eligible farmers, but recently, it's become clear that the sum would be all that was available to black farmers, due to the current economic budget-slashing climate on Capitol Hill. With so many farmers potentially covered in the new settlement, it's simply inadequate funding.

The Grassley-Hagan bill ensures that once the first $100 million runs out, eligible petitioners will be able to collect damages. The legislation also allows for legal fees to be paid from the fund in addition to anti-fraud protection regarding claims, which is a major issue, as the farmers have faced a huge series of challenges dealing with claims, individually and as a group. Sen. Grassley introduced similar legislation in 2007 (In pic: John Boyd, left, with Sen. Grassley, center)