It is one thing to win a lawsuit for damages. It is another thing to collect what you are owed. If you happen to be a black farmer who was part of a $1.25 billion settlement from lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you are still waiting after more than 10 years. This week, the U.S. Senate kicked more dirt in your face as it again stripped the lawsuit settlement funding from legislation. It is time for the White House to intervene in this travesty of justice.
To add further insult to the plight of black farmers, a federal watchdog over bank bailout funds recently OK’d gross overpayments to Wall Street executives totaling more than $1.6 billion. It apparently is OK to pay huge sums of government money to bankers and brokers, but it is not OK to pay damages won in a lawsuit to black farmers.
The original settlement with the government had a time limit for claims to be made by the offended black farmers. It was discovered that many were not aware of the deadlines and failed to file their claim. The time limit was extended but now is again close to expiring. The repeated delays of funding for the payments by the Senate — the House has twice approved the funding — is beginning to take on the appearance of the Senate wanting to cheat the black farmers out of their justly awarded money.
The original lawsuit stemmed from Department of Agriculture farm loans wrongly denied to black farmers because of racial discrimination during the period of 1983 to 1997. Many farmers who were discriminated against eventually lost their farms. The lawsuit settlement called for payments of $50,000 to each farmer.
The settlement of these claims should have happened years ago. Clearly, the Senate is stonewalling and has been for years. What kind of justice system allows the government to purposefully refuse to pay what it owes?
The only solution at this point appears to be involvement from the White House to put pressure on enough senators to get the funding approved. The National Black Farmers Association has held rallies in Washington and has petitioned President Obama to intervene.
The federal government has spent trillions on bailouts and safety nets for banks, insurance companies, investment firms and auto companies. It is yet to be seen how successful these expenditures prove to be. But to renege on a legal settlement with black farmers for $1.25 billion clearly owed them begins to look like racism.