NEW YORK CITY-- Standing across from the U.S. Court House in lower Manhattan with his work mule named Struggle, John Boyd (pictured above), president of the National Black Farmers Association, urged President Barack Obama to pressure Senators to fund the $1.25 billion settlement of a discrimination lawsuit brought by black farmers almost two decades ago:
"The message for the president is real simple: We appreciate your support but we want you to go a step further and pressure the Senate to call for a vote before the mid-term elections," Boyd told Aol. BlackVoices in an interview. "I think he can push the legislators."
Black farmers successfully sued the federal government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for blatantly denying them access to low-interest loans and farm subsidies while granting these same benefits to white farmers. When black farmers did receive loans, they were often at a rate higher than those offered to white farmers. Equipment grants and subsidies often came too late and without explanation, as farming is an extremely time sensitive endeavor.
The federal government first settled Pigford v. Glickman in 1999, paying out more than $980 million to 16,000 farmers, but many of the black farmers who were discriminated against were not properly notified or given enough time to join the suit.
As a result, a 2007 farm bill introduced by Obama reopened the settlement and the $1.25-billion figure was agreed upon. But the payment has not made it through the Senate, because it was a part of larger bills that were voted down. The bill, which has passed the House twice but failed seven times in the Senate, is caught up in bipartisan politics, Boyd said. With the mid-term elections coming up, several senators do not want their stance as fiscal conservatives questioned.
If the Senate waits until after midterm elections, there is a chance that there will be a change in leadership, which may mean starting the lobbying process all over and falling to the bottom of the priority list once again.
Meanwhile, Boyd said, black farmers are dying, struggling to maintain their land or losing their family land at an alarming rate to foreclosure:
"I'm preaching too many eulogies and I'm not a preacher. I have to go to these funerals and look at these families knowing they were eligible for this settlement that could have helped them," said Boyd. "These farmers are dying with no resources."
The payment would average out to about $50,000 per farmer. That's not enough to save all of the black farmers now in jeopardy, but it could help some farms survive and allow families to be at least partially compensated for the discrimination they faced.
"This is a half of a loaf," Boyd said about the $1.25 billion settlement. "I'm not saying the settlement is perfect, but give me the half loaf and let me get some resources out there. This money would be going to some of the poorest counties in this country."
The trip to New York City marks one stop in a tour Boyd has taken to bring awareness to the problems facing black farmers. Tuesday's event follows rallies and meeting in North Carolina and Louisiana.
Boyd said he has received support at every stop as Americans become more aware of the plight of black farmers.
"It's discrimination plain and simple," said Kileem Roacher, 32, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident who recognized Boyd from an appearance on C-Span. "Obama should tell Congress to get this done.
Boyd said there are two solutions to the problem. First, the Obama administration could use administrative funds from the USDA to fund the settlement as was done recently for Blanche Lincoln, a Democratic Senator from Arkansas who recently won a promise of $1.5 billion in disaster aid for farmers in her home state for the loss of crops last year. Lincoln recently survived a runoff and is facing a tough fight for re-election in November.
Many large-scale farms will receive the funds, including payments of anywhere from $100,000 to $800,000 for some agri-businesses.
Boyd said the same solution should be offered for struggling black farmers:
"They find money for AIG, Wall Street or any country with an issue. "Here is the oldest occupation for black people and we cant seem to find the funds," said Boyd.
The other solution is to bring the settlement up for a vote as a standalone bill. Boyd said he has gotten slaps on the back from more senators than he can count, saying they support the payment to black farmers but couldn't vote for it because it authorized some other spending they did not approve of.
"I want a free-standing bill so we can see who support this and who doesn't," said Boyd. "I also want to hear from the president. I don't need much time. Fifteen to 20 minutes should do because black farmers are running out of time."