WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate has joined the House in backing the long fought battle of black farmers and Native Americans and passed the Claims Settlement Act of 2011. Following are reactions to the passing of this legislation:
I am pleased that 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.
This bill also provides funding for settlements reached in four separate water rights suits brought by Native American tribes, and it represents a significant step forward in addressing the water needs of Indian Country. Yet, 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.
"President Obama and I made a firm commitment not only to treat all farmers fairly and equally, but to right the wrongs in USDA's past. I applaud those who took this historic step to ensure black farmers who faced discrimination by their government finally receive justice. And I commend those who led this fight in the U.S. Congress and I am thankful for their unwavering determination.
"Today's vote will help the Department of Agriculture move beyond this sad chapter in history. The bill that passed the Senate and House includes strong protections against waste, fraud, and abuse to ensure integrity of the claims process.
"In the months and years ahead, we will not stop working to move the Department into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider. We also must continue the good work we started to resolve all remaining administrative claims."
The NAACP commends Congress for passing a bill that will appropriate$1.25 billion to fund a settlement for African-American farmers who suffered discrimination at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for decades. The appropriation also pays a settlement for Native Americans land abuse and mismanagement by the U.S. Government.
“The NAACP has been working along with African American farmers to settle the Pigford II case for years, and the February decision cleared any doubt that they deserve compensation for their very legitimate racial discrimination claims,” said NAACP President & CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “I am glad to see that with this case and the Cobell Native American land settlement, Congress is moving forward on addressing past injustices.”
The 'Pigford II' class action lawsuit was settled in February 2009, but efforts to fund the claims, which include cash damage awards and debt relief, had twice stalled in the Senate after passing the House of Representatives. Nearly 70,000 African American farmers are affected by this decision.
“Many of the farmers who qualify for the resources under this settlement have waited as long as ten years since the 1st Pigford settlement to be compensated; all too many have already died or lost their farms,” said NAACP Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, Hilary O. Shelton. “Now that the House has acted, these claims can begin to be paid-out and African American farmers that withstood, in many cases generations of raced based discrimination, can now begin receiving the long overdue assistance promised by the federal government. We are thrilled that this final legislative hurdle has been passed, and strongly encouraged by President Obama’s long stated commitment to sign this bill into law immediately.”
The Senate vote also included $1.41 billion in funding for the Cobell settlement, an agreement between the U.S. Department of the Interior and Native American Indians over centuries of land abuse and mismanagement by the U.S. Government. This funding had also been heretofore stalled in the Senate.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.
The House has given final Congressional approval to a bill that would provide more than $4.55 billion to settle tens of thousands of longstanding claims brought by African Americans farmers and American Indians.
The bill provides $1.15 billion to African Americans left out of a 1999 settlement of a lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman; in that settlement the federal government agreed to compensate black farmers and would
-be farmers who said Agriculture Department officials denied or cheated them out of federal aid. To be eligible for money now, claimants must have farmed or attempted to farm between 1981 and 1986, have filed a discrimination complaint before July 1, 1987, and have filed a claim after the deadline in the original settlement.
The bill provides another $3.4 billion to American Indian plaintiffs who claim that Interior officials m
ismanaged royalties from leases of tribal land used to harvest oil, minerals and timber. Plaintiffs will receive $1.4 billion directly, while the government will use $2 billion to repurchase Indian lands broken up under the Dawes Act in the late 19th and early 20th century. Another $60 million will fund scholarships for American Indian students.
Representative James Clyburn, the majority whip, said the bill helped right historic injustices.
“Today we removed the stain on our country’s history and rectified these injustices,” he said, thanki
ng several Republicans for helping with the bill. “What happened to our nation’s African American farmers and Native Americans was wrong, and we have made it right.”
The vote in the House was 256-152. President Obama is expected to sign it soon.
In a statement Mr. Obama applauded the bill’s passage, and pledged to continue efforts to resolve similar claims brought by women and Hispanic farmers. “Yet, while today’s vote demonstrates important progress, we must remember that much work remains to be done,” he said.
While members of both parties have said they supported compensation for the farmers and the Native Americans, some Republicans oppose the bill. Representative Michele Bachman has claimed that the black farmers’ suit was “rife with fraud” because there more claimants than there are black farmers. And Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, has called the case a form of reparations for slavery.
John W Boyd Jr. , the president of the National Black Farmers Association, countered that the dwindled number of black farmers was a result of the discrimination patterns alleged in the suit.
“This case ain’t got a thing to do with fraud,” he said Tuesday. “It’s about a group of black farmers complaining about what was done to them and seeking justice.”
The House has attached funding for the settlements to larger legislation twice, only to see it stripped out in the Senate over cost concerns. After months of wrangling, Senate lawmakers approved the settlements on Nov. 19 as a separate measure.
The Senate legislation also provides more than $1 billion to settle four water rights cases brought by American Indian tribes and extends for one year the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which helps states provide cash assistance and other services to the poor.
The money for the settlement will come out of funds from a surplus in nutrition programs for women and children, higher fees for customs activity and a Treasury program to recover overpaid unemployment benefits.
“Today’s passage of the Pigford and Cobell settlements closes a shameful chapter in American history by delivering justice to African American farmers and Native American trust holders.
“Our action today makes amends to the many Black farmers who lost their farms as a result of decades of racial discrimination and the Native Americans who suffered because the federal government mismanaged their land held in trust. For too long justice for these individuals has been delayed, and thus denied. Today we have righted that wrong.”