A federal judge has approved a $1.25 billion settlement in a decades-old discrimination case by black farmers, clearing the way for them to seek compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for being left out of farm aid programs.
Still, about 14,000 farmers, including an original lead plaintiff from Waynesboro, Ga., have never received payment.
Thursday’s decision does help tens of thousands of farmers denied part of the original Pigford v. Glickman settlement from 1999 because they missed the filing deadline.
This second wave of claimants is known as Pigford II, and National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd said it was “a very important step that should provide assurance to the black farmers that each of their cases will now move toward a resolution” for that group.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman wrote in an order approving the agreement that by waiving the statute of limitations, Congress has redressed “the historic discrimination against African-American farmers.”
The black farmers reached the settlement with the government in February 2010 to compensate them for being left out of federal farm loan and assistance programs for years because of alleged racial discrimination.
The original Pigford class-action lawsuit, named after North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford, was settled in 1999 for $1 billion, two years after a group of black farmers sued then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
Despite both settlements, two of the six original lead plaintiffs have never received payment.
Lucious Abrams, a Waynesboro, Ga., cattle farmer and a lead plaintiff in the original case, lost thousands of acres of his farmland when the USDA denied him loans and farm assistance in the 1980s and ’90s.
After the 1999 settlement, Abrams and about 81,000 others were denied payment despite being able to prove they had applied for loans and received no help, according to research by the Environmental Working Group.
Abrams said Friday that the settlement was painful to hear because he and so many others have been forgotten.
“We’re still here suffering, we didn’t get justice and we can’t get nobody to listen to us,” he said. “It’s unreal. It’s like a nightmare.”
Abrams said he believes that through the Pigford II settlement, attorneys, judges and descendants of farmers who are no longer even working in agriculture prospered off the litigation while the original black farmers who brought the case have been neglected.
He said that although fewer than 20,000 farmers originally brought grievances in the case against the USDA, nearly 100,000 black farmers are now claiming cases.
“Is the money going to farmers, or is it going to people just ripping off the state treasury and the taxpayers of this country?” Abrams said. “This is one of the biggest conspiracies in history. The USDA, the lawyers, the judges are getting filthy rich, and people around here are starving.”
Reuters reports were used in this article.