On February 18th the Obama administration announced a $1.25 billion settlement with black farmers that could end a years-long stalemate over racial discrimination by the Agriculture Department. If approved by Congress, it would be the second round of damages stemming from a class-action lawsuit the government originally settled in 1999. The new money is intended for folks who were denied earlier payments because they missed deadlines for filing. The amount of money each person would get depends on how many claims are successfully filed. It should be noted, however, that the settlement will have to be funded by Congress.
President Obama initially called for the $1.25 billion in his budget last year, but the request stalled in Congress as disagreements persisted over the amount of funding and the structure of the settlement. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this recent agreement should pave the way for Congressional approval and get money flowing soon to those who are entitled to payments.
The original lawsuit, known as Pigford, was named after Timothy Pigford, a black farmer from North Carolina who was among the original Plaintiffs. Under the 1999 settlement, the government paid out more than $1 billion to about 16,000 farmers, mostly from the South. Most Claimants opted for expedited payments that required a relatively low burden of proof. The payments were $50,000 plus $12,500 in tax breaks. It should be pointed out that thousands of folks were denied claims. Many said they didn’t know about the settlement and missed the deadlines for filing. The new agreement calls for a similar process in which Claimants can be paid without actually having to go to court.
According to Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, Claimants can seek fast-track payments of up to $50,000 plus debt relief, or they can choose a longer process for damages of up to $250,000. Estimates on the number of potential claims vary widely, but some expect totals of about 65,000 – which would set average payments at roughly $20,000. While some may disagree, I believe this is a fair and equitable settlement and one that is deserved by those who will finally benefit.
Source: Mobile Press Register
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