Congressmen, alleging “massive, widespread fraud” amongst claimants and attorneys in the Pigford settlements, have called on the Department of Justice to open an investigation. During a press conference, legislators said whistleblowers – including an FBI agent, USDA employees and black farmers – are prepared to testify about the malfeasance.
The trio of Republicans – Iowa Rep. Steve King, Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte – said they want legitimate cases of USDA discrimination against black farmers to be rectified. However, they made clear that plenty of evidence has surfaced that deserves to be addressed by investigators.
King said more USDA employees wanted to speak on the record regarding the case but were fearful of losing their jobs.
Interestingly, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has called on Congress to fund the $1.15 billion settlement.
“While members of Congress have noted the bipartisan support for this legislation, it is time for Congress to turn their support into action and fund the settlement agreement once and for all,” said Vilsack. “The time for Congressional action to fund the settlement agreement is running out, and the victims of this discrimination should not need to wait a day longer. Congress should not leave today without exhausting every option for passing legislation that provides for the funding.”
Vilsack’s statement came only days after several farm-state legislators – including Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and North Carolina Sen. Kay R. Hagen – announced they would propose a bill to fund last February’s $1.15 billion settlement.
Unfortunately for those wanting an investigation, the agitating trio of legislators – especially King and Bachmann – are widely seen as beholden to right-wing cultural interests making it easier to dismiss their claims regarding the Pigford settlements. If their voices are not joined by a more inclusive chorus, the chances of an investigation or hearings on Pigford certainly lessen.
Unsurprisingly, in an August interview with Farm Press, John Boyd, president of the Black Farmers Association, hit King hard over his Pigford stance.
“When I hear that stuff from (Iowa Rep.) Steve King … you have to ask ‘what is he ever for?’ I’ve been testifying before Congress many times and he’s always there. What does he support? What is he for?
“If he has a problem with black farmers stating their claim against the government, then where is his urgency of need to stop the discriminating against black farmers? I haven’t seen that statement.
“We have 80,000, or so, black farmers saying they have a problem being mistreated by the federal government. What’s his stand on fixing that?”