During an early August interview, I asked Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln about the $1.5 billion Pigford/USDA settlement and Congress’ seeming reluctance to fund it (http://deltafarmpress.com/legislative/senates-full-plate-0809/index.html).
She said the following:
“The Pigford case has been settled. The government settled and we just need to pay it and make sure it happens. This is the sixth time that we’ve asked … to get it done and it’s been objected to.
“Republicans are objecting but other Republicans support it. (Iowa Senator) Chuck Grassley came down yesterday and spoke with us about this.
“If we can file cloture on it, we could move it. I’ve encouraged (Reid) to do that—just file cloture.”
On August 18, I read Lincoln’s quote to John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association -- who is spearheading the effort to secure the settlement funding – then asked where the settlement currently stands.
“Well, the actual vote has been turned down seven times, now,” said Boyd. “Among them: the tax extender, the war bill, the small business bill, the Katrina and FEMA bill.
“I was disappointed the (Obama) administration made a deal with Sen. Lincoln for $1.5 billion primarily in disaster payments or subsidy payments to large-scale corporate farmers. ... I can promise you there won’t be many black farmers taking part in that relief effort.
“I’ve been after President Obama and the administration to offer the black farmers an administrative remedy to help get us out of this political gridlock. The same kind of offer should’ve been made to black farmers like it was to Sen. Lincoln when she took her measure out of the small business (bill). We were taken out of the small business (bill) too. But there wasn’t any type of deal offered to us. That’s pretty much a double standard and I’m hopeful that the president will meet with me in the coming weeks so we can discuss where we are in the process.
“You asked where we are? We’re stuck in the Senate! We’re stuck in gridlock politics. It’s mid-term election politics.”
That was my next question: if this wasn’t an election year do you think this would’ve already gone through?
“I think so. I do think we need the involvement of President Obama to reach out to leadership – Republican and Democrat – to see what can be done to move the bill.”
I’m sure you’ve seen the reports … regarding the census and how the numbers (of black farmers) don’t line up with the class size. Have you heard those claims? How do they stack up?
“Number one, the complaints went back from 1981 to 1997. Now, because it’s taken so damned long, there are heirs involved in this. They’re going to count. And you have the actual black farmers (who) between 1981 and 1997 filed a lot of complaints.
“Many tens of thousands (of complaints) were found at the USDA in boxes that had never been processed. That’s why the definition of the class action went from 1981 to 1997.
“I wanted to go back to 1960 when we saw the biggest drop of land loss for blacks. But that didn’t work.
“They (started claims in) 1981 … because that was the year the civil rights office was closed during the Reagan administration. It didn’t reopen until the Clinton administration (provided) money to reopen it and they began to look at all the complaints black farmers had been sending to the USDA that were stacked up in boxes.”
Look for the full Boyd interview soon.