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A Good Day for Black Farmers

A Good Day for Black Farmers

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The $1.15 billion settlement awarded to black farmers to compensate for decades of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) become a reality yesterday (Dec. 8) as President Obama signed the funding legislation in a White House ceremony.

The Pigford litigation began in 1997 when black farmers sued USDA, claiming discriminating on the basis of race in its handling of agricultural grant and loan programs in the 1980s and 1990s. The settlement, known as Pigford II, extends the same relief to farmers who were eligible for payments under the original settlement but were left out when it was implemented. The President proposed $1.15 billion in the fiscal year 2010 supplemental budget to fund Pigford II. Yesterday, after months of wrangling in Congress, all barriers to restitution were  lifted.

The Environmental Working Group collaborated with the National Black Farmers Association on two landmark reports, 2007?s Short Crop and 2004?s Obstruction of Justice, that revealed a widening gap between USDA subsidy payments made to black farmers and those paid to other farmers.

The Obstruction of Justice report, written by then-EWG general counsel Arianne Callender and research analyst Brendan DeMelle, prompted a series of House Judiciary Subcommittee hearings. Those proceedings gave crucial support to the efforts of John Boyd, president of the  National Black Farmers Association, to revive the Pigford funding, which had been languishing in Congress. Ultimately, the hearings built a record for the unprecedented reopening of the case by Congress in the 2008 farm bill, which authorized the settlement process President Obama successfully completed yesterday.

Not exactly standard fare from an environmental group.

Then again, EWG isn’t your standard environmental group.


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