Pigford Settlement Vote Cheered By Lawyers' Committee

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[National: Commentary]

The Senate's November 19th vote in support of minority farmers in Pigford v. Vilsack is a huge victory in remedying discriminatory practices of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and enforcing settlement mandates long overdue for Black farmers.

The Lawyers' Committee commends Senator Harry Reid for his commitment in accomplishing this critical achievement and also thanks USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak and Assistant Secretary Joe Leonard for their strong support of this key civil rights legislation.

It is also significant that this legislation provides $3.4 billion to fund a separate settlement reached with the U.S. Department of Interior for mishandling of a trust fund managed for Native Americans. The Lawyers' Committee believes that, like the Pigford settlement, this settlement represents a recognition of the longstanding discrimination that has occurred against our brothers and sisters who originally settled this great country.

The Lawyers' Committee has played an active role in seeking redress for African American farmers discriminated against by USDA for years. In an effort to achieve equity for the farmers, the Lawyers' Committee objected to the original payment procedure in the Pigford case as inadequate and deficient, noting that potentially thousands of eligible Black farmers would be erroneously excluded from payment. Since that time, the Lawyers' Committee has insisted that the USDA comply with the
court-ordered settlement and extend benefits to those excluded.

The United States will cease being a global leader if discriminatory policies persist in its own institutions. It is important that the
Department, under Secretary Vilsack's vow for stronger leadership, continue to be at the forefront of remedying past discriminatory practices.

The Senate agreeing to distribute funding under the Obama Administration's additional settlement of $1.25 billion dollars goes a
long way in supporting the renewed commitment of turning the page on civil rights issues of the past.  The USDA's Office of Civil Rights has been working hard to counter the USDA's bad history with minority farmers, and it is refreshing that Congress supports this effort through continued funding of its financial obligations.

Many minority and women farmers depend on the USDA to obtain adequate capital to farm. As a result, bridging the gap between minority communities and the Department remains of utmost importance.  Black farmers now have access to the justice from which they have been so unfairly denied.

Barbara Arnwine is Executive Director The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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