Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and two fellow senators announced they will introduce a bill to fund the $1.15 billion settlement that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack negotiated with black farmers in February.
Lincoln, who is in the middle of a hard-fought re-election campaign, was joined by Sens. Kay R. Hagan, D-N.C., and Mary Landrieu, D.-La., in making the announcement. The settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed by black farmers alleging discrimination in USDA programs in the 1990s.
“The time is long overdue to fund the discrimination settlement for African-American farmers who have experienced decades of injustice,” said Chairman Lincoln. “All farmers should receive equal access and treatment in the delivery of USDA’s programs and services and we must finally close this chapter of discrimination within USDA.
“While funding this settlement will not erase the anxiety and frustrations so many hard-working farmers experienced, it will help compensate their financial losses and finally begin laying the foundation in restoring their faith in the United States government.”
“We want to ensure black farmers in our country finally receive the justice they deserve,” said Hagan. “More than 4,000 African American farmers in North Carolina and over 75,000 nationwide have been discriminated against and denied just compensation for decades.”
“This injustice has gone on for far too long,” added Landrieu. “The U.S. Congress needs to make this right, and the reality is that we are running out of options. That is why Senator Hagan, Senator Lincoln and I have introduced a standalone bill today.”
Landrieu said the senators plan to attach the bill to “any moving legislative vehicle in the Senate. But if the political environment is such that no bill is moving, Senate Leadership will need to call up this stand alone bill and debate it on its merits. I think that Senate Leadership is going to need to take a good, long look at that option.”
The legislation is aimed at ensuring that African-American farmers who were unfairly discriminated against when applying for loans, credit and other forms of financial help will receive the settlement to which they are entitled. The bill will also extend the statute of limitations on certain outstanding discrimination complaints at USDA. Lincoln and Hagan joined John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, at a press conference to highlight the need to fund the settlement.