Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Republicans in a statement released Friday morning, attacking them for employing “obstructionism” to deny “justice” for black farmers and native American trust account holders, who have waited years for financial settlement over “historic injustices.”
Where we see injustices, it is our responsibility to stand up for those who need a voice. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why I am pleased that this morning, Senate Democrats attempted to correct historic injustices for black farmers and Native American trust account holders. This represents a long-standing commitment on my part to seek a fair resolution to these issues. Not to mention, we must continue working to resolve other cases of discrimination at the Department of Agriculture against Hispanic and women farmers. Unfortunately, Republican obstruction denied justice to those who only seek fair settlement of their grievances.
The Chicago Defender recently reported
Like many Black farmers around the country, Willard Tillman is waiting. He’s been waiting for more than a decade to collect on a settlement from the government for being discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture. But waiting is all he can do for now because the government that owes him is still dragging its feet to pay him.
Tillman is one of thousands of African American farmers who is due to collect part of a $1.25 billion settlement from the government but is unable to collect because Congress has yet to appropriate the payout. Congress had until the March 31 congressional recess to appropriate the amount before plaintiffs could opt out of the settlement and pursue individual litigation. No farmers, including Tillman, have opted out as of yet.
The case in which Tillman is a litigant, widely known as Pigford II, is an extension of the Pigford case, a 1999 class action lawsuit against the USDA that stem from decades of discrimination against Black farmers with its services and credits. The $2.4 billion settlement in the Pigford case was the largest in civil rights history. Class members of the original case had a certain amount of time to file a claim and have it adjudicated in order to collect their payout. But because of a failed notification process an estimated 65,000 eligible farmers filed late and were left out in the cold simply because they were improperly notified.
Pigford II is set to correct that by giving another opportunity for late filers to collect their payout. The case of the Black farmers, wronged by the federal government simply because of their race, has dragged on for years. Several times recently it appeared to finally be over, but has now fallen back to struggle. President Barack Obama and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack announced in February that a $1.25 billion settlement has been reached for Pigford II. But, as of now, only $100 million from the 2008 Farm Bill is available. The rest of the funding must be appropriated by Congress.
Reid’s statement added,
There is no excuse for Republicans to continue to employ these partisan delay tactics Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in this case, as in so many others, they are only hurting those who were wronged and are fighting for what is rightfully theirs. We will continue to work on this issue until it is resolved. My view on this is simple: justice delayed is justice denied.
Earlier this week, Main Justice’s Timothy J. Burger reported, “Given the large federal budget deficit, there could be pressure in Congress against a settlement. A March 31 date for Congress to appropriate $1.15 billion in funds for the supplemental black farmers settlement passed without action. (Another $100 million for the black farmers was already set aside in a 2008 farm bill.)”
And Sen. John Barrosso (R-Wyo.) recently proposed capping at $50 million attorneysÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ fees, expenses and costs associated with a proposed settlement with American Indians in a case known as Cobell v. Salazar. The $.3.4 billion Cobell settlement, announced with fanfare in December, would compensate Indians for the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mishandling of trust funds administered by the Interior Department.