Senators Chuck Grassley and Kay Hagan today introduced legislation to ensure that African American farmers, who successfully filed claims as a result of the 2008 farm bill, will receive the money they are entitled to.
“The Department of Justice decided to cap the $100 million in the farm bill, so anybody who was successful in their petition after the money was gone was out of luck. It was clear from the start that $100 million wasn’t going to be enough money. So, we’re making reasonable fixes to ensure that those who have been successful in their cases are awarded what they rightly are entitled to,” Grassley said. “We’ve been working too hard on this for too many years to let bureaucratic procedure and mumbo-jumbo discriminate against African American farmers and ranchers again.”
“Years ago, thousands of African American farmers were found to have been unfairly discriminated against when applying for loans, credit, and other forms of financial help to ensure their farm’s success,” said Hagan. “The 2008 Farm Bill passed without adequately addressing the costs required to settle the claims in the Pigford case, and ultimately, help right the injustices these farmers faced so many years ago. This legislation seeks to correct that problem, and ensures the farmers who were discriminated against receive what is fairly due to them.”
The Department of Agriculture settled a landmark class action lawsuit with African American farmers in 1999. The Department and the county commissioners discriminated against African American farmers when they denied, delayed, or otherwise frustrated the applications of those farmers and those attempting to farm for farm loans and other credit and benefit programs. This settlement permitted over 22,000 black farmers to have their claims evaluated on the merits, and almost 15,000 had their claims vindicated.
For a variety of reasons, nearly 75,000 additional black farmers filed their claims of discrimination through the Pigford consent decree process past the deadline for their claims to be evaluated on the merits. As a result, thousands of victims of discrimination continue to be denied an opportunity even to have their claims heard.
The 2008 farm bill included funding to help African American farmers who were denied entry into the Pigford v. Glickman settlement. The Grassley/Hagan legislation ensures that once the 100 million authorized in the farm bill is spent, successful claimants will still be able to receive the funding they are entitled to.
The Grassley/Hagan legislation:
· Allows the claimants to access the $100 mil already appropriated in the farm bill, but once that is expended gain access to the Department of Treasury permanent appropriated judgment fund,
· Allows reasonable attorney fees, administrative costs, and expenses to be paid from the judgment fund in accordance with the 1999 consent decree, and
· Includes a section making fraud related to claims a criminal offense with punishment of a fine or up to 5 years in prison or both.
Here is a copy of the text Grassley’s statement for the record upon introduction of the bill.
Statement for the Record of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Pigford Claims Funding Act of 2009
May 5, 2009
Thank you Mr. President.
I want to first start off by thanking the Senate and in particular the Senate Agriculture Committee for addressing a new cause of action in Federal court for those African-American farmers who may have been discriminated against and who were denied entry in the Pigford v. Glickman Consent Decree. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 including a provision entitled Determination on Merits of Pigford Claims.
For those who don’t know, the Consent Decree was a settlement that resulted from a class action lawsuit initiated by a class of African-American farmers who had for decades been discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture in the administration of its FSA loan program. The discriminatory treatment was well-documented by both the USDA’s own Inspector General and an internal task force appointed by then USDA Secretary Glickman.
We had some unanticipated consequences in the Consent Decree’s implementation. There was denial of approximately 77,000 African-American farmers into the Decree even though these farmers filed petitions by the late-claim deadline. More than half of these late-claim petitioners didn’t even know about the Consent Decree. The Court said the lack of notice was not a sufficient reason to allow them into the Consent Decree. Thus, these individuals were denied entry and their discrimination complaints went unresolved. This was not a fair outcome for farmers or those attempting to farm at that time.
The farm bill did the right thing by allowing late filers to have their claims heard and judged on the merits. These farmers deserve justice and at least the opportunity to have their claims heard.
Unfortunately, it’s been very difficult to determine how many of the 77,000 actually have valid claims. Lots of different folks have lots of different calculations. Either way, it’s likely to be expensive. Because of the budget constraints, the Farm Bill only could put $100 million towards the endeavor.
I think we can and must do better than that. That’s why today I am introducing bipartisan legislation with Senator Hagen of North Carolina. This bill will make 3 changes to the farm bill. First it will allow the claimants to access the $100 million already appropriated in the farm bill, but once that is expended gain access to the Department of Treasury permanent appropriated judgment fund. Second, it will allow reasonable attorney fees, administrative costs, and expenses to be paid from the judgment fund in accordance with the 1999 consent decree. Finally, it includes a section making fraud related to claims a criminal offense with punishment of a fine or up to 5 years in prison or both.
The claimants, who were able to timely file, were allowed access to the judgment fund and so it makes sense that we treat these new claimants the exact same way. The Department of Justice was treating the $100 million included in the farm bill as a cap, but Congress simply viewed it as a down payment to rectify the damage done.
The farm bill we passed last year does one thing right. It focuses a considerable amount of resources on new and beginning farmers and ranchers. Well, many of the Pigford claimants were in that same boat 20 years ago. It’s time to rectify that.
The farm bill has simply opened up the door so that claims can be heard. If a person brings a claim and can’t meet the burden of proof, then no award will be given. However, 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. That’s why I am introducing this legislation with Senator Hagen and I urge my colleagues to support the bill. It’s time to make these claimants right and move forward into a new era of civil rights at the Department of Agriculture.
Thank you. I yield the Floor.