Nearly two months since the administration announced a $1.2 billion agreement to settle decades-old racial discrimination claims against the Department of Agriculture, the nation's black farmers are still looking for the money.
And the checks are not in the mail.
A March 31 deadline in the federal court agreement passed without Congress providing the money that is to be paid to thousands of farmers. The missed deadline does not end the settlement but does allow the farmers to reopen the class-action lawsuit.
"The black farmers are not willing to engage in an indefinite waiting game," John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, said Thursday.
Boyd said he was disappointed the administration had not secured the money from Congress. "We need more of a commitment" from President Obama to back up the agreement with cash, Boyd said.
"We want the administration to do what they said they were going to do," Boyd said. "This has been a very, very long, drawn-out battle. There's been a lot of empty promises made to the black farmers."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the administration "remains dedicated" to securing money from Congress to pay the farmers to end a long-running case in which the department acknowledged a history of discrimination against black growers.
"I have met with and talked to key stakeholders and members of Congress reiterating the administration's ongoing efforts to close this chapter in the history of the department," Vilsack said.
Obama requested money for the settlement in his fiscal 2010 and 2011 budget. The administration asked for a direct appropriation but is also exploring other options with Congress, such as redirecting existing funds.
Boyd said farmers were trying to be patient but many face spring planting costs and are looking for government payments in the case to help keep their operations afloat. Boyd said black farmers were keeping open the "option of walking away from the settlement at any time during the next 60 days" if there is no progress in Congress.
The settlement would provide a second round of damages from a lawsuit the government first settled in 1999. The government paid out more than $1 billion to 16,000 black farmers. The agreement is aimed at providing money for thousands more who were left out of the first round of payments because they missed filing deadlines. The size of the award to individual farmers has yet to be determined.