WASHINGTON -- Black farmers in America will place the fate of the funding of their historical discrimination case settlement once more in the hands of the U.S. Senate.
The Senate is scheduled to take up the Black farmers funding today. That is the latest word directly from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who met late Tuesday with John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA), the second such meeting in as many weeks. Offsets have been identified, meaning the settlement funding will be completely paid for and will not add to the deficit.
By NBFA's count, this will be the seventh time the Senate has taken up this issue in recent weeks. The Senate is scheduled to place the funding of the Black farmer settlement up for unanimous consent on the floor Wednesday. Black farmers are required to have the support of 100% of the Senate for this measure to be approved. Boyd has been working 16 to 18 hour days shuttling between Senate offices, keeping the attention on the Black farmers case. And thousands of farmers have been calling Senators across the Southeast, pleading for relief.
“Asking 100% of the Senate to agree on anything is a challenge," said John Boyd of the NBFA. "But what is remarkable about the Black farmers settlement is that it has not been resolved yet even with support from the President, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Senate Majority Leader. The Senate Minority Leader told me personally that he supports the funding – and this measure has passed the House twice. Last year Senators Hagan and Grassley got together and proposed legislation to resolve the Black farmers case, and Republican Senators Cochran and Burr have stated they support the funding of the Black farmers settlement. It’s bipartisan and it’s paid for. But we are left asking ourselves today, hours before another reported possible step forward in the Senate, what does it take to get bipartisan action for the Black farmers. What does it take to get justice in America?”
The move for unanimous consent was scheduled by Senate Majority Leader Reid, after a recent one-on-one meeting with John Boyd, a working farmer and founder of the National Black Farmers Association who requested an up-or-down vote. The Senate goes on “recess” from August 9 through theSeptember 12, and many farmers fear this will result in another long delay. One third of the Senate is up for re-election and the post-recess period offers no guarantee of legislative action.
“The time to turn the page is now – we want to move on," said Boyd. "Each day or week the Senate stalls the greater risk more Black farmers will die before they ever see justice. Six years ago African American farmer Eddie Cotton of Virginia was profiled by the national media. Mr. Cotton never got to see justice. And that stays with me. I continue this fight for each aging Black farmer whose life was impacted by discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has not yet seen a resolution."
The list of individuals and organizations who have indicated their support for the funding of this settlement include President Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and the Congressional Black Caucus. The Senate is composed of 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans, and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. No Democratic or Independent Senator is on the record against Black farmer settlement funding. Republican Senators have stated their support for Black farmer settlement funding, including Senators Grassley, Burr, and Cochran:
"…we know USDA has admitted that the discrimination occurred, and now we are obligated to do our best in getting those that deserve it, some relief."
- Senator Charles Grassley - IA (R) in a May 5, 2009 statement for the Record in re Pigford Claims Funding Act of 2009
"I hope that the Senate can approve funding so that the USDA can process these successful legal claims as quickly as possible."
- Senator Richard Burr - NC (R) in an August 3, 2010 statement to the News and Observer newspaper
"Thousands of the farmers that have claims against the USDA in this case are in Mississippi. I hope this settlement will resolve these claims in a fair way that is consistent with the court rulings rendered in these cases."
- Senator Thad Cochran - MS (R) in a March 2, 2010, press release
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell personally told John Boyd that he supported funding, and Boyd believes many others support the funding, but have simply not gone on record. In addition to the vast political support, the bill also has the support of NAACP, RainbowPUSH Coalition, Inc., theNational Action Network and National Urban League. Funding for the Black farmers settlement has already passed the House twice this year.