During a June 30 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was asked about a resolution of the Pigford lawsuit. Earlier this year, black farmer plaintiffs agreed to settle a discrimination suit against the USDA. However, despite assurances that payments would be made quickly, funds have still not been made available to resolve the case.

For more, see Black farmers settlement to miss funding date and $1.25 billion settlement for black farmers.

Also on Vilsack’s to-do list: dealing with similar class-action discrimination cases brought against the USDA by Hispanics (Garcia v. Vilsack), Native Americans (Keepseagle v. Vilsack), and women (Love v. Vilsack).

“I think you’ve highlighted and tried to do a good job in the area of civil rights that had some shortcomings in a lot of previous administrations,” said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley to Vilsack during the hearing. “I’ve been an advocate for the Pigford/African-American settlement. … Have you got any suggestions on how we might move forward on getting (plaintiff payments) out?”

Vilsack: “Our hope is you’ll find a legislative vehicle. We’ve identified an offset you can tack (the necessary funds) onto so we can … begin the process of getting these folks paid what they’re entitled to.

“At the same time, we’re setting up a process where we’ll offer a settlement opportunity for the folks in the Garcia and Love cases. And we’re in significant negotiations with the plaintiffs in the Keepseagle case.

“The goal in all of this is to close this chapter and begin a new chapter in civil rights within the USDA.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com