WASHINGTON - After three weeks of driving his tractor, "Justice," around Capitol Hill, John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, has been denied for the ninth time.
Justice has been once again delayed for thousands of black farmers across our country thanks to the rogue actions of one US Senator, Tom Coburn (R-OK). The landmark settlement that would right decades of discrimination against black farmers by the US Department of Agriculture had been a rare point of bipartisan agreement. After negotiations between leading Democrats and Republicans, it was set to be passed by unanimous consent, which requires all senators to support the measure.
This is the second time that Senator Coburn has apparently broke with Republican leadership to object to the funding. In May, Coburn objected saying the settlement funds were not offset by budget cuts elsewhere. The present unanimous consent motion was fully offset, and yet Coburn objected again. John Boyd has this to say. "I am reminded of another piece of landmark civil rights legislation, ‘the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act,’ as I recall that legislation passed the House 422-2, and was expected to pass the Senate by unanimous consent but Senator Tom Coburn placing a hold on the bill. Once again Coburn has stood with a very small minority of radical politicians to deny justice to the powerless in our country."
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said the "discrimination is well-documented, the courts have affirmed this discrimination, and Congress has twice acknowledged the need to settle with those who have suffered from this discrimination."
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) said, "People who aren’t entitled to it shouldn’t get it, and that should be the Department of Agriculture’s responsibility and the court’s responsibility." Boyd agreeing with Senator Grassley said, "This case is about the opportunity to have late-filed claims heard and judged on their merit. If a case has no merit as determined by the court – not Senator Coburn - it should not be paid. The fact is, this settlement must be court approved, and all claims are judged by a claims administrator that is appointed by the court."
The settlement, which must be approved by the court, defines a potentially eligible claimant as an African American who farmed or attempted to farm between January 1981 and December 31, 1996, applied to USDA for farm credit or program benefits and believes that he or she was discriminated against by the USDA on the basis of race, and made a complaint against the USDA on or before July 1, 1997. The claimant must then prove their claim to the third party neutral appointed by the court. The 2007 Census of Agriculture counted a total of 41,024 black operators across the United States. To date, fewer than 30,000 claims have been filed in Federal Court related to this black farmer discrimination case, many of whom have died while waiting for Senate appropriations.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "If Republicans are fundamentally opposed to ending this injustice for black farmers and Native American trust account holders, they should at least have the courage to say so and stop playing games with this critical issue."
John Boyd, president, National Black Farmers Association released the following statement this evening:
Black farmers and thousands of supporters across the country are heartbroken this evening at the insidious action of Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Senator Coburn can pat himself on the back for delaying an important issue as he did with the Emmett Till Act. At the end of the day, this was a fully paid for settlement with ample safeguards including the authority of the court and a court-appointed neutral to adjudicate the claims. No one who wasn't discriminated should be compensated. Make no mistake, Judge Friedman is nobody’s fool. It is what it is – it seems in the eyes of Senator Coburn and a very small minority of politicians black farmers are guilty until proven innocent. Blacks who farmed and dreamed of farming continue to die waiting for a day of justice that has once again been delayed – the doctor turned senator has committed legislative malpractice in the first degree. We call on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to live up to the promises and explain to black farmers why they will have to continue to wait.