WASHINGTON — A group of black farmers rallied Wednesday outside the Agriculture Department to press their claim that thousands of people were left out of the settlement of a discrimination lawsuit.
Seven years ago, the department agreed to pay farmers who could show they were discriminated against. The settlement provided for payments of $50,000 in most cases but allowed for unlimited payments in extreme cases.
As of January, the government had paid around $900 million to settle 14,300 claims. An additional 8,100 claims were denied; many are under review by a court-appointed monitor.
“We want full restitution ... so black farmers can move on with their lives,” John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, told a crowd of about 100 people.
Boyd, a Virginia farmer who organized the event, brought two mules and a wagon, a reminder of the Civil War reconstruction order giving 40 acres and a mule to each freed slave.
More than 60,000 other people submitted claims but missed the filing deadline. Black farmers’ groups have been lobbying to let those claims proceed.
A bill in Congress would allow the claims and stall government loan foreclosures until they are decided.
“In effect, the federal government has broken its promise,” said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., the bill’s sponsor. “The promise was to provide a fair and clean process for black farmers who were victims of discrimination.”
Davis’ bill also calls for a more aggressive outreach campaign.
A department spokesman, Ed Loyd, said officials have not reviewed the bill but that the issue goes beyond the sole authority of the department.
Under the original settlement, there were 44 commercials aired on Black Entertainment Television cable network and 18 spots on CNN. In addition, quarter-page ads ran in 142 newspapers in 18 states over a two-week period. There was also a full-page ad in TV Guide and a half-page ad in Jet Magazine.
Not everyone at the rally wanted the settlement reopened. There was plenty of word of mouth about the lawsuit, said Georgia farmer William H. Miller.
“Ignorance is no excuse, as they say,” Miller said.
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