United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and Department of Justice Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli announced last week that the settlement of a lawsuit by Black farmers who allege the agency discriminated against them, has been settled.
The litigation, known as Pigford II for Timothy Pigford who first filed the suit in 1981, is expected to pay out $1.25 billion to African Americans who claim they were discriminated against, when applying for the USDA loan programs.
The USDA established an agreement with the Black farmers in 1999 to pay them for discrimination that they endured. Many claims were settled, but a significant number of others were rejected due to missed filing deadlines. To be fair to all claimants, in the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress gave the farmers who missed the deadline the opportunity to file again in federal court as part of a $100 million settlement. The agreement reached Friday, for $1.25 billion, includes that money.
President Barack Obama stated last May that the funds to pay back the Black farmers would be included in the 2010 budget, and now Congress must approve the settlement before March 31st. If Congress does not approve it, the claimants have the choice to walk away or push litigation further.
Claimants will be able to choose between two tracks. Track A is the simplified claims process that provides quick relief for those who were discriminated against and pays up to $50,000.
Track B is for claimants who choose to try and prove actual damages that they incurred due to the discrimination and may pay up to $250,000. All payment amounts depend on the total number of successful claims.
“The agreement reached is an important milestone in putting these discriminatory claims behind us for good and in achieving finality for this group of farmers with long-standing grievances,” said the USDA’s Vilsack. The agency is now making civil rights a priority and has implemented required civil rights training for its leadership teams and political appointees.
U.S Attorney General Eric Holder added, “With the settlement, USDA and the African American farmers, who brought this litigation, can move on to focus on their futures.”