In 1999 Black farmers won a settlement in a class-action lawsuit that charged the USDA denied them loans and other services available to farmers who were white. The government agency was ordered to pay $50,000 to each Black farmer affected and grant him or her debt forgiveness and preferential treatment on future loan applications. The government turned around and cheated 86 percent of the Black farmers out of the money, claiming they missed the filing deadline.
The farmers continue to press for what is owed them. In 2008 up to $100 million was placed in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act to compensate those farmers who missed the filing deadline. But even these funds, far short of the $50,000 per farmer ordered by the court, have never been approved in a spending authorization bill. President Barack Obama filed a request for $1.15 billion to pay the farmers but dropped the matter there.
The Obama administrations priorities are clear. He is aggressively seeking $159 billion for this year to wage war against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and $33 billion in supplemental funds for Afghanistan alone. His new jobs program focuses on bailout funds for community banks and tax breaks for businesses. While working farmers are straining to get loans to keep on the land, the Obama administration allows banks to borrow money from the Federal Reserve at close to zero percent interest.
By standing up and fighting, Black farmers are setting an important example for other farmers who face USDA discrimination. Latino, Native American, and women farmers all have discrimination suits under way against the USDA for violations similar to what Black farmers have faced. A victory for the Black farmers will not only advance their fight, but that of all working farmers for the right to inexpensive credit and an end to foreclosures.
Malcolm X, King had clashing class outlooks
Black farmers protest govt discrimination
Rallies demand compensation
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