Black-farmers group cheers deal in war bill

Two longstanding discrimination lawsuits against USDA and the Interior Department received settlement money in the war supplemental approved by the House late Thursday, spurring advocates to call on the Senate to follow suit.

The bill included money to pay for the settlement of a black farmers' anti-discrimination case against USDA, known as Pigford II, and the Cobell Individual Indian Money Accounts claims at Interior. The House had tried to include the Pigford II and the Cobell settlements in the "extenders" bill passed earlier by the chamber, but that bill remains stalled in the Senate.

National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd on Friday praised the House for including the settlements, citing Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus for their work.

Boyd called on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans to vote for either the extenders bill or the supplemental so that black farmers could receive justice. Boyd said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., had been supportive, but he noted any bill including the settlements still needs GOP backing to pass.

Boyd said he is appealing first to Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to vote for one of the bills containing the settlements because Grassley has long been a champion of settling the black farmers' cases.

Boyd also called on southern Republican senators to "do the right thing for the black farmers" who are their constituents and vote for it. He noted that Mississippi and Alabama each has about 20,000 black farmers who would get settlements.

Boyd said he is also working with the advocates in the Cobell claims, who are located mostly in the western states, to try to find 60 Senate votes to pass the legislation.

The black farmers' settlement has been a contentious matter for years. Dan Glickman, the Agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, settled the initial Pigford case brought against USDA, but black farmers argued not all discrimination victims had a chance to file their cases before the deadline passed.

The Justice Department's Judgment Fund has paid out more than $1 billion in the initial Pigford settlement. In the 2008 farm bill, Congress allowed additional claimants to file their cases in what has become known as Pigford II and authorized USDA to settle the cases. But the bill included only $100 million for the settlement and stipulated the rest of the money could not come from the Judgment Fund. That means it would need to be appropriated.

The Obama administration reached agreement with the farmers for a total settlement of $1.25 billion to be divided among the victims, but the administration has refused to ask Congress for an emergency declaration for the $1.15 billion needed to complete the settlement.

House leadership said the settlement in the supplemental is offset.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article indicated that National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd had praised Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. He actually was referring to Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. The story has been updated to correct the error.

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