Network of Black Farm Organizations and Advocates
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 4, 2009
Contacts: Please see below
of Black Farm Organizations and Advocates
Praise President Obama’s Commitment to Black Farmers
Note $2.5 billion is Needed for Full Relief of Pending Lawsuit
– On May 6, 2009, President Obama issued a statement that his budget
proposal for Fiscal Year 2010 would include $1.25 billion to settle a pending
racial discrimination lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture brought by
black farmers who were denied the right to participate in the Pigford v.
Glickman class action settlement in 1999. In making this announcement,
President Obama indicated his “hope . . . that the farmers and their families
who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will
have the chance to rebuild their lives and their businesses." This
announcement came just days after Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s
unprecedented announcement of a 14-point plan to address civil rights concerns
at the Department of Agriculture.
On Friday, May 29, a Network of Black Farm Organizations and Advocates – comprised of the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation, Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund , Land Loss Prevention Project, Mississippi Family Farmer's Association, National Black Farmers Association, and other advocates from across the country – met in Atlanta (in person and via conference call) to discuss these developments. Emerging from that meeting, they issued the following joint statement:
Many of us have been involved in farm politics and policy development for decades, and never have we seen a President or an Administration so committed to justice and civil rights for black farmers. President Obama’s announcement of $1.25 billion to address the Department of Agriculture’s unfortunate history of racial discrimination is a welcome, and truly unprecedented, act that we hope signals the beginning of a renewed commitment to address decades of discrimination and wrongdoing.
In some ways, it is also unsurprising. President Obama has been a champion for black farmers since his time in the Senate, and he truly understands the toll that racial discrimination has taken on black farmers, many of whom have lost their land, their farms, and their livelihood because they could not make ends meet. Indeed, black farmers would not even have the opportunity to seek relief for the discrimination they endured were it not for then-Senator Obama’s fervent advocacy during the Farm Bill negotiations last year. These farmers will never get back the land they lost, and there remain numerous issues affecting black farmers that must be addressed, however a settlement of the pending racial discrimination suit brought by Pigford claimants is an important and significant first step toward making these farmers whole.
But while we support President Obama’s commitment of funds, we remain concerned that this sum falls short of the $2.5 billion we estimate will be required to provide full relief to all meritorious black farmers unfairly excluded from the original Pigford settlement.
Indeed, if one assumes only $62,500 – the minimum amount of relief promised to meritorious claimants in the Farm Bill – for each successful claimant, $1.25 billion would only provide enough money for 20,000 claimants. More than 26,000 claimants have already filed suit under the Farm Bill, and we estimate that ultimately the number of deserving claimants may number over 40,000. In short, if we want to ensure that all black farmers get the full relief to which they are entitled, more money is needed.
Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) have already recognized this problem and have introduced legislation that would provide full relief to deserving black farmers. We commend their efforts, and look forward to working with President Obama, his Administration, the Congress and the courts to find a solution that gives black farmers left out of the Pigford settlement the full relief – and the justice – they deserve once and for all.
We want to emphasize, however, that the Pigford lawsuit is only one piece of a broader effort that is needed to address the legacy of discrimination at USDA. The lawsuit does not answer, for example, the long-standing and systemic discrimination, abuses and problems experienced by black farmers at USDA offices across the country. Discrimination, in fact, remains a major problem, and even now some farmers are being retaliated against at USDA offices for participating in the original suit. In addition to settling the Pigford lawsuit, the USDA must address the discriminatory aspects of its policies, programs, offices and outreach services. We are hopeful that the implementation of the Secretary’s 14-point memorandum mentioned above is a step toward redressing these issues, and we stand ready to assist the Administration with these changes in any way we can.
Network of Black Farm Organizations and Advocates
Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation - Calvin King (870-734-1140)
Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association - Gary Grant (252-826-3017)
Land Loss Prevention Project - Savi Horne (800-672-5839)
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund - Ralph Paige (404-765-0991)
Mississippi Family Farmer's Association - Eddie Carthan (662-458-0983)
National Black Farmers Association - John Boyd (804-691-8528)
Ministry of Agriculture-Dr. Ridgely Muhammad (229-995-6619
For specific questions relative to the status of the Pigford II litigation contact: Eric Sanchez