For Immediate Release
Lawyers’ Committee Applauds Final Congressional Approval in Pigford Settlement
Compensation for Minority Farmers is Long Overdue and Deserved
WASHINGTON - The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released the statement below following the U.S. House's November 30th final approval to settle longstanding claims brought by African American farmers and Native Americans totaling more than $4.55 billion:
Final Congressional approval of this historic bill in support of minority farmers in Pigford v. Vilsack is a huge victory in remedying discriminatory practices of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and enforcing settlement mandates long overdue for black farmers. The Lawyers' Committee commends President Barack Obama for his commitment by rectifying this injustice and making the settlement of this case a key priority. We also thank Senator Harry Reid for leadership in accomplishing this critical achievement and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak and Assistant Secretary Joe Leonard for their strong support of this important legislation.
We recognize that this is a bittersweet victory. As National Black Farmers' Association President John Boyd Jr. has stated, "this is not a perfect settlement, it is a just settlement and one that we hope will allow the cases to be resolved and provide closure." The Lawyers' Committee urges all claimants to remain vigilant, including those filing on behalf of family members who have died during this arduous process.
It is also significant that this legislation provides $3.4 billion to fund a separate settlement reached with the U.S. Department of Interior for mishandling of a trust fund managed for Native Americans. The Lawyers' Committee believes that, like the Pigford settlement, this settlement represents recognition of the longstanding discrimination that has occurred against our brothers and sisters who originally settled this great country.
The Lawyers' Committee has played an active role in seeking redress for African American farmers discriminated against by USDA for years. In an effort to achieve equity for the farmers, the Lawyers' Committee objected to the original payment procedure in the Pigford case as inadequate and deficient, noting that potentially thousands of eligible Black farmers would be erroneously excluded from payment. Since that time, the Lawyers' Committee has insisted that the USDA comply with the court-ordered settlement and extend benefits to those excluded.
The United States will cease being a global leader if discriminatory policies persist in its own institutions. It is important that the Department, under Secretary Vilsack's vow for stronger leadership, continue to be at the forefront of remedying past discriminatory practices. The Senate agreeing to distribute funding under the Obama Administration's additional settlement of $1.25 billion dollars goes a long way in supporting the renewed commitment of turning the page on civil rights issues of the past. The USDA's Office of Civil Rights has been working hard to counter the USDA's bad history with minority farmers, and it is refreshing that Congress supports this effort through continued funding of its financial obligations.
Many minority and women farmers depend on the USDA to obtain adequate capital to farm. As a result, bridging the gap between minority communities and the Department remains of utmost importance. Black farmers now have access to the justice from which they have been so unfairly denied.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law.