American Indian Farmers Are Offered $680 Million
The Wall Street Journal
The Obama administration agreed Tuesday to pay up to $680 million to American Indian farmers to settle an 11-year-old class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who took office promising to address longstanding complaints by minority farmers against the department, said eligible farmers and ranchers can receive up to $250,000 each for showing that USDA discrimination caused them economic losses. However, most farmers will probably opt for a uniform $50,000 payment, which involves less red tape.
In the class-action suit, American Indian farmers allege that USDA bureaucrats denied them the low-interest rate loans given to white farmers between 1981 and 2007.
The American Indian class-action lawsuit has long been overshadowed by similar discrimination litigation brought by black farmers against the USDA. The Obama administration reached a $1.25 billion settlement with black farmers in February, but Congress has yet to appropriate that money.
Unlike the suit by black farmers, the money to settle the litigation by American Indian farmers is coming from an existing federal judgment fund—managed by the Justice Department and Treasury Department—which is used to pay for litigation involving the government.
The amount of money that the federal government will eventually pay to American Indian farmers is far from clear in large part because it is hard to estimate how many farmers will file claims.
According to the most recent USDA census of agriculture, which was conducted in 2007, nearly 35,000 American Indians made the day-to-day decisions for a farm or ranch. Before the 2007 census, however, the population of American Indian farmers is murkier because the government often counted an entire reservation as one farm operation.
Posted by Wild Thing