Obama, black farmers settle on $1.25b deal

Associated Press / February 19, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration unveiled a $1.25 billion deal with black farmers yesterday that could end a yearslong stalemate over alleged 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 people who were denied earlier payments because they missed deadlines for filing. The amount of money each would get depends on how many claims are successfully filed.

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 yesterday’s agreement should pave the way for congressional approval and get money flowing soon.

In a statement, Obama said the deal would bring “these long-ignored claims of African-American farmers to a rightful conclusion.’’

“I look forward to a swift resolution to this issue, so that the families affected can move on with their lives,’’ Obama said.

Vilsack said the deal should close a “sordid chapter’’ in USDA history in which blacks often lost land or went deeply into debt after being denied loans and other aid that routinely went to their white counterparts.

John Boyd, a key plaintiff organizer and head of the National Black Farmers Association, initially balked at the $1.25 billion last year, saying it would take more money to satisfy all the claims. But yesterday he and others agreed to the total because the case has dragged on so long.