Sunday, June 29, 2008

Farm Bill Revives Black Farmers' Opportunity to Pursue Bias Suits Against Federal Government

Here's an excerpt from the AP story, which notes that up to 70,000 potential claimants may have claims totaling $3 billion, three times the payout in the original 1999 settlement.

The decision to allow new claims comes almost 10 years after the Agriculture Department settled a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of black farmers. The farmers, mainly from rural areas in the South, asserted that federal department offices at the local level routinely denied them loans, disaster assistance and other aid frequently given to whites — practices that often drove them out of business.

At that time, 22,500 farmers filed claims. Nearly two-thirds were awarded a total of $981 million in damages, including one Virginia farmer awarded $6.6 million.

But an estimated 73,000 others were denied payments because they missed the October 1999 deadline for seeking claims. Many said that the six-month filing period was too short and that they were unaware of the settlement until it was too late.

The 2008 Farm Bill allocated only $100 million to satisfying the claims, and supporters acknowledge that it was an arbitrary amount. Artur Davis, Democrat from Alabama explained, “[t]he reality is that we had to fix some dollar amount to this provision because that’s what the House rules require.” The AP story notes that "the measure ran into little opposition in the debate on the farm bill, mainly because of the artificially low price tag."

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