Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
– In 1997, Timothy Pigford and 400 other African American farmers filed suit against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for discrimination, Pigford v. Glickman or Pigford I. They alleged that the USDA treated black farmers unfairly when deciding to allocate loans and subsidies. For example, the USDA on average took more than 380 days to process a loan application from an African American farmer while processing an application from a white farmer in less than 30. Also, the top ten percent of corporate and white farmers received on average $1M per year in farm subsidies while African American farmers received on average $200.
On April 14, 1999, Judge Paul Freidman approved a settlement agreement and consent decree in Pigford I. The consent decree established a two-track dispute resolution process (Track A and Track B) for farmers seeking relief. Track A provided a monetary settlement of up to $50K plus relief in the form of loan forgiveness and tax liability. Track B allowed those seeking actual damages to pursue relief provided they could meet a higher standard of proof by supporting their claims by a preponderance of the evidence.
According to the Congressional Research Service, “The deadline for submitting a claim as a class member was September 12, 2000. A court appointed Oregon based facilitator, (Poorman-Douglas Corporation) was selected to notify known and potential members of the class that a settlement had been reached, to receive and screen potential class members’ claims to determine whether they met the class definition, and to assign the claims to the adjudicator and arbitrator for action.”
Poorman-Douglas’ core business is software development not claims administration. As a result of their inexperience in necessary processes compounded by their geographical distance and unfamiliarity with the affected class; more than 70,000 African American farmers were not notified in a timely manner of the Pigford I settlement. Failure to notify all of the potential claimants and not allowing those affected individuals to file timely claims resulted in the need for the Pigford II case.
Over 25,000 additional African American farmers were certified as a new class of litigants, Pigford II. On February 18, 2010, Attorney General Holder announced an additional $1.25B settlement in the case of Pigford II. Under Pigford II, claimants can seek Track A payments up to $50K plus debt relief, or pursue Track B payments for damages up to $250,000.
As the court works through the final details of what has become the Pigford II settlement Epiq/ Poorman Douglas’ (formally Poorman-Douglas) is again being considered as the Claims Administrator. This is causing great concern among the Pigford II claimants. Also, no minority businesses have been provided the opportunity to participate in the processing or administration of the claims process. Why is the company that dropped the ball in Pigford I being considered for a second opportunity in Pigford II?
Also, why are individuals such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) calling for hearings to investigate these settlements after they have been adjudicated in US Courts and stating the Pigford settlement “is full of fraud” and “amounts to paying reparations to black farmers in America. We don’t do reparations in America.” There is absolutely no proof that any “fraud” has been found in claims submitted in Pigford I and no claim’s have even been submitted as a result of Pigford II. Why should African American farmers be treated any differently than the Native Americans in the Cobell case who were awarded $3.4 billion over claims that they were cheated out of royalties overseen by the Interior Department for resources like oil, gas and timber.
It is important to understand that redress under Pigford I or II does not make the victims whole. These remedies merely allow the impacted farmers to walk away from these cases of government sanctioned discrimination with some sense of redress.
If Rep. King is correct and “We don’t do reparations in America,” why did President Reagan sign The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 to redress $20,000 to Japanese American detainees for damages caused for wrongful interment during WWII? Also, in 1992, an additional $400 million was awarded Japanese American detainees and George H. Bush issued another public apology in accordance with the amendment to the act.
Why do members of Congress continue to treat African Americans in a different manner than other Americans? The same mentality that caused the problems for African American farmers with the USDA is now impacting their ability to expeditiously administer the court sanctioned remedy. Failing to allow competent minority owned businesses that are tied to the affected areas and can relate to the affected class to participate in the management and administration of the Pigford claims would be an additional slap in the face to the African American community above and beyond what has been done to America’s Black Farmers.
Even while celebrating their victory in court, America’s Black farmers struggle for justice.