July 20, 2004

Obstruction of Justice: Conclusion & Recommendations

As an agency with an annual budget of $100 billion, with nearly $40 billion (USDA 2003) designated for financial assistance to farmers, this contentious battle over paying farmers in a settled case is unjustifiable. Congressional intervention is the only solution that remains for these farmers. The U.S. Congress should step in and ensure that this discrimination comes to an end immediately. EWG and NBFA recommend that Congress remedy these inequities by taking the following measures:

(1) Congress should order USDA to provide full compensation to the nearly 9,000 farmers who were denied relief after being accepted into the settlement class;

(2) Congress should order USDA to re-evaluate the merits of the nearly 64,000 farmers' claims that were shut out due to lack of notice of the settlement. All African American farmers who meet the preliminary requirements to qualify as a member of the Pigford class should receive the $50,000 payment and debt relief provided by the settlement;

(3) Congress should direct the USDA to institute accountability measures to monitor and enforce civil rights standards throughout the Agency, requiring that in the future the USDA shall exert best efforts to ensure compliance with all applicable statutes and regulations prohibiting discrimination; and

(4) Congress should ensure the full implementation of outreach and financial assistance programs that support minority farmers.

"I've talked to farmers from all over... and it's nationwide, everybody has dealt with it. I've heard the same type of stories from Midwestern farmers all the way down south. There's a lot of things that still need to happen, still a lot of things the USDA needs to make right."

—Alan Diggs, Southampton County, VA farmer

The history of discrimination that led to the Pigford suit tells the tale of deeply entrenched institutionalized racism. The discrimination that led to the suit still persists in many forms, including even the administration of a civil rights settlement. Instead of a fair facilitation of the settlement, the victimization continues with delay tactics and aggressive litigation strategies. A settlement is a cooperative process, not a small-scale litigation battle. Ultimately, the farmers have not fared substantially better than they would have at a civil trial. A startling 86% of the farmers with discrimination complaints have been unsuccessful and walked away from the settlement with no money and no ability to redress their grievances in a court of law. As for Track B claimants, lengthy litigation and uncertain results are the reality of this settlement. Only 18 claimants of nearly 200 have been successful before the Arbitrator and 20 still await the initial hearing over five years after the settlement was reached. This is not a favorable alternative to civil trial. On the contrary, it is a continuation of the disenfranchisement of the African American farmer at the hands of the USDA.

Small farmers, the group of farmers to which most African American farmers belong, are the backbone of our sustainable agricultural future. By contributing a heightened awareness of the needs of the land, utilizing sustainable practices such as multicropping, and by supporting the growth and wealth of their local communities, small farmers provide an invaluable resource to the agricultural system. Government-subsidized loans and grants are designed to support the small farmer, and provide vital resources to this important segment of the farming industry. In order for this system to operate effectively, it must operate equitably. To discriminate against small farmers, and to further marginalize particular small farmers with racially discriminatory practices in the administration of financial assistance, contravenes the spirit and purpose of these USDA programs.