Sunday, November 21, 2010

U.S. Senate Approves $4.6 Billion Settlement for Native, African American Farmers

U.S. Senate Approves $4.6 Billion Settlement for Native, African American Farmers

Measure must return to House for full approval

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A lame-duck United States Senate approved a $4.6 billion settlement for Native and African American farmers who have suffered decades of discrimination by governmental agencies. The measures had been supported by the Obama administration in 2009.

Nonetheless, funding for the compensation packages, now known as the Claims Settlement Act of 2010, has been delayed because of the failure of the Senate to provide funding to make payments to the victims that number into the tens of thousands.

In the case involving African American farmers, an initial settlement in 1999 failed to compensate tens of thousands of households due to bureaucratic problems. The case had stemmed from a suit filed by North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford in 1997 accusing the U.S. Department of Agriculture of systematic discrimination based on race.

The 1999 settlement was supposed to provide a mere $50,000 to each African American farm family that made a claim of discrimination. However, many families never received any compensation which resulted in further litigation and another settlement known Pigford II.

In regard to the class action lawsuit involving Native Americans, Cobell vs. Salazar had been filed 15 years prior to the recent Senate action. Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet nation had filed the claim based on the mispending of Native monies by the Departments of Treasury and the Interior.

“I want to thank Senators Baucus and Tester for leading the fight in the Senate to provide a long-overdue conclusion to this settlement," Cobell stated. (Missoula Independent, Nov. 19)

"Too many Native Americans have died waiting for justice. My greatest optimism lies ahead hoping that today’s news gives way to permanent reform in the way the Departments of Interior and Treasury account for and manage Individual Indian Money accounts.”

John Boyd, the president of the National Black Farmers Association, said of the Senate bill that "the passage of this bill is long overdue. Black farmers have already died at the plow waiting for justice." (, Nov. 19)

Boyd continued by noting that "The amount of money will not put farmers back into business." What the leader is refering to is the ever increasing role of agribusiness which dominates farming and food production in general.

Over the last 90 years, African American farmers have lost over 13 million acres of land largely in the South where their ancestors were enslaved for two-and-a-half centuries.

Funding the Settlement and the Role of the House

Republican senators had held up this bill and similar ones claiming that it would only contribute to the national deficit.

One of the main opponents of approving the settlements to African American and Native farmers was Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma who only dropped his objection when it was agreed that the monies for the bill would be taken from surplus funds provided for nutritional programs for women and children.

At the same time the bill must go back to the House for final approval. This will reportedly take place after the holiday recess in late November.

The Afro-American website raised concerns that the bill may face additional hurdles in the House. An article says that "The matter now goes to the House where even more recalcitrance is expected from lawmakers who contend that the settlement adds to what they consider excessive spending at a time of federal budget deficits." (, Nov. 19)

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