On Thursday USDA and the Justice Department announced a $1.25 billion settlement agreement in a class action brought by African American farmers on outstanding discrimination claims, which were not covered by the 1999 consent agreement in the case Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I). Under the Pigford I consent agreement, USDA paid 16,000 farmers about $1 billion to settle their claims.
The federal court hearing the case for the outstanding claims (Pigford II) must approve the settlement agreement. In addition, and Congress will need to appropriate $1.15 billion to add to the $100 million provided in the 2008 Farm Bill. The Obama Administration’s FY2010 budget request included $1.15 billion to settle the case but the funds were not appropriated and it is not clear where the money will come from now. Under the agreement, the farmer plaintiffs in Pigford II will not have to go through a judicial process to have the merits of their claims determined but rather through a simpler administrative process. The Justice Department estimates that some 70,000 farmer plaintiffs will be eligible for redress of their claims.
Latino producers brought a similar class action against USDA alleging discrimination but in late 2009 the Supreme Court rejected their class action status, requiring that each farmer would have to bring an individual claim. Woman farmers and ranchers have also filed complaints of discrimination in lending against USDA and both groups will probably consider this settlement an opportunity to find redress for their similar grievances. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), an advocate for woman farmers and Chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee said “In addition to addressing discrimination cases against black farmers, I strongly urge the USDA to work toward settling discrimination claims brought forward by women, Hispanic, and other minority farmers. These groups have also suffered great hardships as a result of decades-long discrimination by USDA and it is critical that their perseverance and hard work in overcoming a hostile environment receive some recognition.”
For more information on the Pigford settlement, see the website of our allies at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.