Emergency appropriation for black farmers is unlikely

House leadership, administration would prefer to provide money for Pigford case settlement through regular appropriations.

Neither the White House nor the House leadership appears willing to provide a $1.15 billion appropriation on an emergency basis to settle the black farmers' discrimination lawsuit against the Agriculture Department, threatening a settlement reached this year in the decades-old litigation.

John Boyd, president of the Black Farmers Association, said Wednesday that a key White House aide told him at a meeting last week that the administration would not support an emergency appropriation for the settlement so the expenditure would not need to be offset under pay/go rules.

Boyd said Michael Strautmanis, chief of staff to White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, told him the settlement did not meet the administration's criteria to be designated as an emergency. A White House spokesman would not comment on Boyd's statement, but noted that President Obama remains committed to a settlement of the case.

Earlier Wednesday, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., chief deputy whip in the House, said the House leadership would prefer to provide money for the settlement through "regular order."

Butterfield, whose constituents include Timothy Pigford, the initial plaintiff in the class action suit, said he agrees with the leadership position because he does not want the settlement to increase the deficit, but that if offsets cannot be found he would vote for a bill to provide the money without offsets.

Butterfield spoke at a news conference with Ralph Paige of the Atlanta-based Federation of Southern Cooperatives and other black farm leaders. Paige, who was at the same White House meeting with Boyd, said it was up to Congress to provide the money on an emergency basis or find the offsets.

Boyd also said he believes the administration should tell Congress what offsets should be used. "We are still holding the president accountable. He just hasn't taken that final step with us," Boyd said.

Black farmers have charged that for decades USDA gave them poor service and denied them the same level of farm and housing loans as white farmers received. The Clinton administration settled an initial group of claims known as Pigford I, which has resulted in payments of more than $1 billion from the Justice Department's judgment fund.

The need for the $1.15 billion appropriation has arisen because the 2008 farm bill authorized payment of Pigford claims that had not met an original filing deadline, but provided only $100 million to settle the suits. The Obama administration and lawyers for the black farmers agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement in that case, known as Pigford II.