Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Black Farmers Protest at USDA Headquarters; Sec. Vilsack Says Pigford Two Settlement Is Imminent

Hispanic & women farmers have also filed against USDA
On Monday in Washington, DC, the National Black Farmers Association held the last of a week-long series of rallies across the Southern states to call attention to the still-unsettled Pigford Two case, a decade-old discrimination suit against USDA.

The combination of snow and the federal holiday managed to reduce the turnout for the local rally, held in front of USDA headquarters, although the farmers who did show up spoke out against USDA and the lack of a settlement. NBFA's John Boyd led the rally (above), and called on President Obama, Congress, and USDA to settle the case once and for all. On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the case is close to settlement.

"We are within a matter of days or perhaps even hours in getting this thing finally resolved," Sec. Vilsack told the Washington Post in a Q & A, published today.

The case has been "about to be settled" numerous times before, however; currently there is $1.2 billion in the 2010 budget for the settlement.

In the same Post article, Sec. Vilsack also discusses pending discrimination suits from Hispanic farmers and women farmers, and says that in addition, there are still about 3,800 civil rights complaints awaiting review at USDA. And he describes what "a new era of civil rights" means for USDA.

"When this department was established in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln, he referred to it as the people's department. In order to be consistent with that legacy, it's necessary that our programs and our approach reflect an appreciation for everyone's rights," Vilsack said. "We took a look at [these] prior issues and are in the process of trying to address each of them."

USDA officials met with another group of black farmers on Feb. 12 and 13 in Albany, Georgia, at a conference organized by the Federation of Southern Farmers Land Assistance Fund, but no announcement was made about Pigford Two.

Related: The New York Times recently ran an editorial calling the failure to settle Pigford "a crippling injustice."

Photo: John Boyd at Monday's rally in front of USDA/Reuters