Government settles lawsuit with Native American farmers
By Tom Cohen and Alyse Shorland, CNN
October 20, 2010 1:59 p.m. EDT
These two bills (This one and the Pigford below,) were attempted to be put through together.
We are researching why they were separated, and one denied and the other passed. Will get back to you later.
Washington (CNN) -- The government will provide $680 million in compensation to settle a class-action lawsuit by Native American farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to a proposed agreement announced Tuesday.
Under the agreement, which requires federal court approval, Native Americans can file claims for discrimination involving farm loans that occurred in the period from 1981-1999, said statements by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder.
"Today's settlement can never undo wrongs that Native Americans may have experienced in past decades, but combined with the actions we at USDA are taking to address such wrongs, the settlement will provide some measure of relief to those alleging discrimination," Vilsack said in his statement.
The $680 million will compensate eligible members of the class-action suits with valid claims, the statements said. The agreement has two payment tracks -- one provides $50,000 to those who provide substantial evidence of discrimination to an impartial adjudicator, and the other pays up to $250,000 to those who can show economic losses caused by discrimination.
"Actual monetary awards are subject to reduction based on the amount of available funding and the number of meritorious claims," the statements said.
The settlement also includes $80 million for debt relief, as well as other assistance for Native American farmers.
In a White House statement, President Barack Obama called the agreement "an important step forward in remedying USDA's unfortunate civil rights history."
The lawsuit alleged discrimination against Native Americans regarding their access to and participation in the Agriculture Department's farm loan programs, according to the statement. "This settlement marks a major turning point in the important relationship between Native Americans, our nation's first farmers and ranchers, and the USDA," said a statement by Joseph M. Sellers, the lead plaintiffs' attorney. "After three decades, Native American farmers and ranchers will receive the justice they deserve, and the USDA has committed to improving the farm loan system in ways that will aid Native Americans for generations to come."
George and Marilyn Keepseagle, whose name is on the lawsuit against the government, said they were unfairly denied operating loans and had to sell portions of their sprawling farm on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. "This is a great day for us, not only for us but our people," Marilyn Keepseagle said. "It's been a long time brewing and finally today it came to a positive end. And I'm happy about that."
She said she wants to use some of the money to pay off bills and to make much needed repairs to their home of 40 years. Claryca Mandan of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, who is a member of the lawsuit, said she was unfairly denied farms loans in the past. Mandan and her husband still reside on land that was allocated by the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887, which intended to settle Native American tribes and turn them into farmers and ranchers.
"It definitely was long, and it definitely was worth it, to voice some measure of justice for our community," Mandan said of the settlement. "It's always a rare day and one we rejoice in. We are very happy to be put back on equal footing again with the rest of America."
George Keepseagle, at left with his family in North Dakota, took part in the lawsuit against the government.
The settlement also calls for future changes to the USDA's farm loan program. It will create the Native American Farmer and Rancher Council, a new federal advisory committee, which lawyers said will bring together Native American and USDA officials to discuss the USDA's programs.
"I think the leadership in the USDA genuinely wants to see them succeed," Sellers said, adding that it will take time to implement the changes. "But we have the mechanism that will begin the process of delivering these services to Native Americans so [with] the next generation of farmers, the USDA will be a better partner than it has in the past."
Black farmers' settlement is at the mercy of the Senate
July 22, 2010|By Ed Hornick, CNN
Money to pay for a discrimination lawsuit brought against the Department of Agriculture by black farmers remains stuck in a legislative body described as a place where bills go to die.
In July, the House approved a war supplemental bill that included money to pay for the settlement. It now remains stuck as senators examine the bill.
The 1997 Pigford v. Glickman case against the U.S. Agriculture Department was settled out of court 11 years ago. Under a federal judge's terms dating to 1999, qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias.
As a senator, Barack Obama sponsored "Pigford II," a measure in the 2008 Farm Bill that reopened the case. In February of this year, his administration brokered a $1.25 billion settlement for Pigford II. But Congress missed two deadlines, one in March and the other in May.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday blasted Senate Republicans for holding up the process, saying that they have "rejected over and over again any legislation that has had the Pigford settlement in it."
House Minority Leader John Boehner, asked about Republican support for the black farmer settlement money, said "many of us are supportive of settling these claims."
"This issue has gone on for almost the 20 years that I've been here, and it needs to be resolved," he added.
The money, along with all the other added domestic spending that the House added to the war funding bill, is likely to be stripped out next week when the Senate is expected to approve money for Iraq and Afghanistan and other emergency spending items.
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina, said in a statement Thursday that the federal government has failed to live up to its obligations to black farmers, including more than 4,000 North Carolinians.
"Sen. Chuck Grassley and I have been working together to right this wrong for our farmers," she said. "Since the settlement was agreed to in February, I have been focused on ensuring Congress appropriates the funding. I will continue working with my colleagues to secure the funding in the first piece of legislation that is headed to the president's desk."
Pelosi, meanwhile, said the push to get Senate action has had "no higher priority because of the events of recent days."
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