If there are only 39,697 African-American farmers grand total in the entire country, then how can over 86,000 of them claim discrimination at the hands of the USDA? Where did the other 46,303 come from?
Now, if you’re confused over what the heck I’m even talking about, let’s go back to the beginning of the story:
Pigford v. Glickman
In 1997, 400 African-American farmers sued the United States Department of Agriculture, alleging that they had been unfairly denied USDA loans due to racial discrimination during the period 1983 to 1997. The farmers won the case, known as Pigford v. Glickman, and in 1999 the government agreed to pay $50,000 each to any farmer who had been wrongly denied an agricultural loan. By then it had grown into a class action case, and any black farmer who had filed a complaint between 1983 and 1997 would be given at least $50,000 — not limited to the original 400 plaintiffs. It was estimated at that time that there might be as many as 2,000 beneficiaries granted $50,000 each.
According to the summary of the case linked above,
Originally, claimants were to have filed within 180 days of the consent decree. Late claims were accepted for an additional year afterwards, if they could show extraordinary circumstances that prevented them from filing on time.
Far beyond the anticipated 2,000 affected farmers, 22,505 “Track A” applications were heard and decided upon, of which 13,348 (59%) were approved. US$995 million had been disbursed or credited to the “Track A” applicants as of January 2009, including US$760 million disbursed as US$50,000 cash awards…. Beyond those applications that were heard and decided upon, about 70,000 petitions were filed late and were not allowed to proceed. Some have argued that the notice program was defective, and others blamed the farmers’ attorneys for “the inadequate notice and overall mismanagement of the settlement agreement”. A provision in the 2008 farm bill essentially allowed a re-hearing in civil court for any claimant whose claim had been denied without a decision that had been based on its merits.
Then on February 23 of this year, the USDA finally consented to pay $1.25 billion to those farmers whose claims had earlier been denied:
In the 1999 case Pigford v. Glickman, the USDA agreed to pay 16,000 black farmers $1 billion after a judge held the federal government responsible for the decline in black farmers. Critics argued that more than 70,000 farmers were shut out of the lawsuit. In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley got a law passed to reopen the case, and the settlement talks moved forward.
The $1.25 billion settlement, announced Thursday, comes on top of the money paid out a decade ago. The new agreement would provide cash payments and debt relief to farmers who applied too late to participate in the earlier settlement, The Washington Post reported. Authorities say they are not certain how many farmers might apply this time, but analysts say the number could be higher than 70,000.
Seventy-thousand+ applicants in addition to the 16,000 already compensated now means that over 86,000 people are slated to be paid.
The U.S. Senate and Shirley Sherrod
Which brings us up to today, when two current events suddenly thrust this otherwise little-known case into the spotlight. First, the Senate stripped funding for the settlement out of an unrelated war appropriations bill, as they had done several times in the past. Second, it was revealed today that “A farm collective founded by Shirley Sherrod and her husband that was forced out of business by the discriminatory practices received a $13 million settlement as part of Pigford last year, just before she was hired by the USDA.”