Review of USDA-Black Farmers Civil Rights Settlement Shows Program Almost a Complete Failure
Joint News Release NATIONAL BLACK FARMERS ASSOCIATION ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP
WASHINGTON — A new investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the National Black Farmers Association reveals that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) withheld nearly three out of every four dollars in a $2.3 billion landmark civil rights settlement with black farmers.
The historic agreement was intended to quickly pay back black farmers for decades of unequal treatment when they applied for USDA crop loan programs. Instead, the new investigation found, USDA treated farmers as legal adversaries by contracting with US Department of Justice lawyers, who spent at least 56,000 staff hours and $12 million contesting individual farmer claims.
As a result, the vast majority of African American farmers have been denied the "automatic" compensation that the settlement promised. For the 81,000 farmers denied compensation, there is no future opportunity to obtain relief. Without intervention by the United States Congress, these farmers will never receive the compensation they deserve.
The USDA hid information it had already compiled on loan program treatment differences between white and black applicants. African American farmers were forced to try to reconstruct, on their own, information that was readily available at USDA.
"The numbers in this investigation show this program is a complete failure in addressing and ending decades of discrimination against African American farmers," said Arianne Callender, EWG general counsel. "Instead of processing claims as promised, USDA used the full weight of the federal government against African American farmers it had already discriminated against."
"Thousands of us are losing our land because USDA has shut out African American farmers from crop loan programs for decades," said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association. "This settlement was supposed to pay us back for unfairly denying us the same opportunities as everyone else. Instead, they have thrown up roadblock after roadblock."
The investigation found that, nearly nine out of ten denied restitution. USDA denied payment to 86 percent, or 81,000 out of 94,000, of African American farmers who came forward seeking restitution.
The full investigation is available on EWG's website: http://www.ewg.org.
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