Washington - Despite President Obama's recent signature on landmark civil rights legislation, many black farmers seeking justice for decades of discrimination may miss their chance, according to John Boyd, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association.
Invited to speak at the National Press Club, Boyd addressed confusion over the Claims Resolution Act of 2010, which was designed, in part, to remedy decades of discrimination by the U.S. Dept of Agriculture for farmers who did not have the opportunity to have their claims determined on their merit. Boyd and others are attempting to avoid a similar scenario by explaining the process, warning of potential con games, describing anti-fraud measures and clearing up misconceptions.
“Black farmers have come too far in their pursuit of justice to lose their chance now,” Boyd said. “But a rapidly developing crisis threatens to sabotage black farmers' last best hope. In some cases, farmers just have not had an opportunity to review the facts. In other cases, troublemakers have steered farmers wrong in an attempt to gain attention or grab quick cash.”
Boyd, who was present when President Obama signed the landmark Claims Resolution Act of 2010 in December, pointed to widespread confusion over who is eligible as well as to apparent con artists falsely telling farmers they need to pay a fee before filing a claim.
Those eligible for a claim under the current settlement are:
1) Farmers who filed late during Pigford 1, the first attempt to remedy the USDA's widely acknowledged record of discrimination. Tens of thousands of farmers and those who attempted to farm missed the deadline for various reasons, including inadequate communications about the process.
2) Farmers who did not receive a determination on their Pigford 1 claim.
All claimants must have:
farmed or attempted to farm between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996
owned, leased or attempted to own or lease farm land between the dates
applied for a farm loan or non-credit benefits at a USDA office between the dates. Examples include an operating loan, an emergency loan and a soil and water conservation loan.
Some farmers and observers have questioned the inclusion of those who “attempted to farm.” Boyd said the inclusion is important. “Farming is a time honored vocation for many African Americans,” he explained. “But through systematic discrimination, many were denied the kind of access and assistance afforded their white counterparts. Unfortunately, some farmers who did not have a positive experience in Pigford 1 don't like the inclusion of those who ‘attempted to farm.' I understand their disappointment, but this is not fraud.”
Anti-fraud barriers are strong throughout the process, Boyd pointed out:
Claims Process – For a claimant to receive an award, his/her claim must pass a review by impartial, Court-approved administrators.
Signature under Penalty of Perjury – Each claimant is required to sign his or her Claim Form under penalty of perjury attesting to his or her belief that the information on the Claim Form is true and correct. If a claim is found to be fraudulent, the claimant could be subjected to criminal penalties.
Representation by Class Counsel – The Agreement is designed with the expectation that most claimants will submit claims through Class Counsel, who are trained to identify meritorious claims and help identify fraudulent claims.
Admissibility Requirements – Evidence submitted in support of larger claims must meet the rigorous standards of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Transparency – The Claims Administrator and Class Counsel are required to make regular and thorough reports to the Secretary and the Court about progress and payments in the claims process. These reports become public information.