Tomorrow, the National Black Farmers Association will hold a protest rally at USDA headquarters on the National Mall in Washington.
Led by Dr. John W. Boyd, Jr, the NBFA is calling for President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to re-open the Pigford settlement, a 1999 agreement between a group of black farmers and the federal government. Pigford was a monetary settlement that attempted to compensate black farmers for decades of racially discriminatory USDA lending and credit practices. But thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline to apply, because they weren't aware a lawsuit even existed. Since 1999, black lawmakers have sought to reopen the suit.
Last year, while still a Senator and on the campaign trail, President Obama was among a group of lawmakers who got $100 million added to the 2008 farm Bill, to be distributed to those farmers who had been locked out of the original Pigford settlement, even though the estimated amount for full compensation is closer to $4 billion. The Justice Department has recently filed to cap total payments to black farmers at the $100 million, which is causing outrage among black farmers and leaders. In a meeting last Wednesday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on the Obama administration to hold meetings to discuss the issue. Aides have responded, indicating that the black farmers will get their grievance addressed.
And Ag Secretary Vilsack has indicated a willigness to work with NBFA, too; he's made correcting the discriminatory practices of USDA a priority. In a memo sent to USDA employees Tuesday, Vilsack said the department would work with Justice to resolve late Pigford claims “fairly and expeditiously.”
“We agree more needs to be done not only on this particular issue but on civil rights in general. We are working internally at USDA as well as with the Department of Justice to ensure that people are treated fairly,” Vilsack wrote.
*The NBFA rally will be in front of the Jamie Whitten building on the National Mall tomorrow at 10 AM. Go here for more information, or call 866-962-0251.
*The NBFA will hold a conference at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel the day after the USDA rally, on April 29, to discuss the discriminatory USDA policies. Conference topics will include "Availability of Federal Funds to Small and Black Farmers" and "The Cost to the Black Farmer of Anti-Competitive Practices in the Bio-Tech Seed and Chemical Industries." Invited speakers at the conference, unconfirmed as of this writing, include Rep. Collin Peterson (MN), Rep. Sanford Bishop (AG Appropriations), Rep. Lincoln Davis (AG Appropriations), Sen. Tom Harkin (Ag Committee Chair), USDA Undersecretary James “Jim” Miller, Farm Service Agency and USDA's Dallas Tonsager.