EDITORIAL: Justice on credit

By NEMS Daily Journal

The U.S. Senate and House have agreed and President Obama is expected to soon sign a long-sought settlement of a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture against black farmers in the rate of approval and amounts of loans processed in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The justified appropriation, paid for by excess federal funds from other sources, provides $1.15 billion for the settlement, up to $50,000 each for the plaintiffs who qualify. No deficit spending will be involved in the settlement, the key to passage.
Most African-American farmers potentially involved – 76 percent of 32,938 eligible nationwide in 2007 – live in Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia.
The measure passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and by a vote of 256-152 in the House, on Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss., voted for the measure.
The original lawsuit, an out-of-court settlement and a second lawsuit had stretched out for more than a decade.
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a member of the Agriculture Committee, praised the final approval:
“This legislation is offset and provides an avenue of recourse for farmers, many of them from Mississippi, for the discrimination claims they have against the Agriculture Department. I am pleased the Senate has approved this settlement ….”
“I am glad Congress found ways to offset this legislation so the Agriculture Department can address the discrimination claims of many Mississippi farmers,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., late Thursday afternoon.
The legislation has been pending since the settlement agreement reached in February between African-American farmers, USDA, and the Department of Justice.
Some opposition surfaced, and at least one Midwest representative, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, likened the settlement to reparations for slavery. Ridiculous.
The 1997 Pigford v. Glickman case against the U.S. Agriculture Department was settled out of court 11 years ago. Under a federal judge’s terms dating to 1999, qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias.
The Senate also cleared in the same legislation a $3.4 billion claim to fund a separate settlement reached with the Department of the Interior for mishandling of a trust fund managed for Native Americans. The bill also includes settlements for four water-rights lawsuits filed by Native American tribes.
Discrimination deserves a remedy, and the settlement provides one for bias in the past quarter-century.