Is it a classic case of too little too late? U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman gave approval to a consent agreement that would compensate African American farmers who’ve charged the Department of Agriculture with racial discrimination. The suit, filed on behalf of black farmers nationwide, claimed they were wrongfully denied access to government-backed loans, forcing thousands of them into foreclosure.
As reported earlier in Newspoints (see “Black Farmers have Beef with the USDA,” January 1998), John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association, alleged that only 4% of the $1.9 billion in farm ownership loans issued by the USDA in 1997 went to black farmers. He also alleged that a history of loan discrimination by the Agriculture Department, dating back to 1983, played a critical part in the dwindling in the percentage of black farmers, from 14% in 1920 to less than 1% in 1997.
Farmers who have grievances can pursue their claims in two categories. One calls for simple proof of discrimination and will entitle them to debt erasure from government loans and a $50,000 cash payment. Others with more extensive claims may choose arbitration and seek higher damages on the basis of reasonable proof of discrimination for actual losses. Final approval of the settlement is expected this month.