By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Black farmers involved in a
decades-old discrimination case are questioning why the Obama
administration has promised to hasten aid for some large-scale
farmers in the South while their case is held up in political
The administration pledged last week to find $1.5 billion
to help farmers hit by natural disasters after it appeared
unlikely the Senate would promptly fund the package.
Black farmers reached a historic $1.25 billion civil rights
settlement in February to compensate them for being left out of
federal farm loan and assistance programs for years due to
racism, but are still waiting for funding.
There have been seven failed attempts by the Senate,
including one last week, to fund the settlement.
The deadline for finalizing the settlement is Thursday. If
the administration does not step in with funds from other
Agriculture Department programs, it will be the third missed
deadline for the deal.
"At some point, you have to start questioning what is going
on here," said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers
"It sends the wrong signal for the Obama administration to
help one group of farmers and then leave the other group of
farmers out," Boyd told Reuters.
Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, who faces a tough
re-election campaign this year in Arkansas, said last week that
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel assured her the
administration would provide funding in the next two weeks for
the disaster aid package that is one of her top priorities.
Boyd said he believed the bulk of those funds would go to
large-scale farmers already treated generously by U.S. farm
programs, and provide little if any assistance to black
"This is a national disaster, and it's a man-made disaster
what happened to (the black) farmers," Boyd said.
Boyd sent a letter to President Barack Obama Wednesday,
requesting he intervene on behalf of the black farmers to find
"similar administrative avenues" to fund the settlement.
Boyd pointed to statements made by Obama, including a 2007
letter from the then-senator saying, "It is time to end the
inexcusable delays associated with resolving this issue, and
finish the job," and asked for a meeting with Obama to discuss
how to move forward.
The original Pigford class-action lawsuit, named after
North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford, was settled in 1999.
The first case awarded more than $1 billion in payments and
debt relief to black farmers, but tens of thousands of farmers
missed the filing deadline. The new settlement allows those
farmers to pursue their claims.
Obama said he looked forward to "a swift resolution to this
issue" six months ago when the settlement was reached.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)