WASHINGTON — United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., joined with Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Senator Kay Hagan, D-N.C., has introduced a bill to fund the $1.15 billion settlement to black farmers from the 1999 Pigford discrimination suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"This injustice has gone on for far too long," said Sen. Landrieu. "The U.S. Congress needs to make this right and the reality is that we are running out of options. That is why Senator Hagan, Senator Lincoln and I have introduced a stand alone bill today. We will try to attach this bill to any moving legislative vehicle in the Senate. But if the political environment is such that no bill is moving, Senate Leadership will need to call up this stand alone bill and debate it on its merits. I think that Senate Leadership is going to need to take a good, long look at that option."
"The time is long overdue to fund the discrimination settlement for African American farmers who have experienced decades of injustice," Lincoln said. "All farmers should receive equal access and treatment in the delivery of USDA's programs and services and we must finally close this chapter of discrimination within USDA. While funding this settlement will not erase the anxiety and frustrations so many hard-working farmers experienced, it will help compensate their financial losses and finally begin laying the foundation in restoring their faith in the United States government."
"We want to ensure black farmers in our country finally receive the justice they deserve," said Hagan. "More than 4,000 African American farmers in North Carolina and over 75,000 nationwide have been discriminated against and denied just compensation for decades. Today, I join with my colleagues from Louisiana and Arkansas, Senators Landrieu and Lincoln, to introduce a bill to fund the settlement once and for all, and we are working to send this language to the President."
For decades, the government blatantly discriminated against African-American farmers by denying them loans that were awarded to their white counterparts. In 1999, the USDA settled a class-action lawsuit that compensated approximately 15,000 African-American farmers. The compensation per farmer was about $50,000.
On many occasions, funding for the Pigford settlement has been attached to bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but has never been included in the final version. On February 12, 2010, President Obama requested that the Pigford settlement be included in the Emergency Supplemental bill, but it was ultimately removed from that bill as well.
There are 71,000 black farmers eligible for claims filed under the Pigford lawsuits. In Louisiana, 985 farmers have filed an eligible claim and more than 2,500 are eligible late filers. There are approximately 1,900 African-American farmers currently in Louisiana.