The Pigford Pig-Out and the Election

Is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s settlement of the Pigford class action suit about to become a 2010 election issue? The case, which started to get national notice in July when it came to light as part of Andrew Breitbart's video clip of Shirley Sherrod addressing the NAACP, is back in the news this week.

The case is about alleged discrimination against black farmers in the administration of certain USDA programs in the Reagan years. The initial settlement dates from the Clinton administration, when it was estimated that two to three thousand potential claims might ensue under Track A, which provided for liquidated damages of $50,000 each. Over 22,000 claims were filed; 13,348 of those claims were actually approved.

Pigford took on new life when the Democrats took over Congress in 2006. A new claim period was established because of allegations that tens of thousands of black farmers did not have the opportunity to file claims during the initial settlement period. The suspected fraud in the settlement claims was big in the blogsphere this July when it came to light that Sherrod and her husband were the largest recipients of federal funds, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government for alleged discrimination by the USDA officials, including significant amounts for "pain and suffering."

So far, the actual funding for the second round of Pigford payments has been hung up in the Senate. Earlier this summer, there were stories in local newspapers all across the South about blacks petitioning the Senate for funding of Pigford, including a march on Washington in September if no action had been taken before then. Monday, there was this news  from Washington, D.C., where the Senate was urged to pass the appropriation. 
Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also stood with [John Boyd, the president of the National Black Farmers Association] during the news conference to announce they are introducing a standalone bill with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to fund the $1.15 billion settlement. "We're working together to send this language to the President as quickly as possible because our Black farmers have waited too long," said Sen. Hagan. "We want to ensure Black farmers in our country finally receive the justice they deserve," she said.

Senators Hagen, Lincoln, and Landrieu were joined on the Capitol steps by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), the Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus; Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Bobby Scott (D-VA); and Maxine Waters (D-CA). Over at Beitbart TV, they have a short clip of three members of the Congressional Black Caucus dodging Pigford questions. 

Here is what the usual supsect Waters had to say.

"I was pleased to join my friend John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association, and the many Black farmers and their families and urge the Senate to fund the $1.15 billion settlement owed to these hard working Americans," said Waters. "I have been working on this issue for almost 15 years, as Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus in the late ‘90s, I worked closely with my CBC colleagues to urge then-Attorney General Janet Reno to waive the statute of limitations so that farmers could redress decades of financial and racial discrimination with the Department of Justice."

With support from the Obama Administration and with the funding already passed by the House, Waters said, "we now find ourselves waiting on the Senate, which is using procedure as an excuse to further delay and deny justice to these Black farmers. I firmly believe the Senate should make the Black farmers' settlement a legislative priority, and that they should not recess for mid-term elections until this issue is resolved. I therefore applaud Senator Kay Hagan and some of her colleagues latest efforts to fast track this payment."

Unfortunately, according to this, some Republican Senators appear to be in agreement.

Three Republican Senators, Senator Grassley (R-IA), Senator Graham (R-SC), and Senator Barrasso (R-WY) have introduced or co-sponsored legislation (S.3693 and S.3754) to provide funding of the black farmer settlement. Further, Senator Cochran (R-MS), Senator Wicker (R-MS), and Senator Burr (R-NC) have all been on record as supporting the funding of the black farmer settlement.

Other Republicans disagree. On September 24, Iowa Congressman Steve King (R-IA-5), a member of both the House Agriculture and the House Judiciary Committees, wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting a meeting next week to discuss allegations of major fraud in the disbursement of Pigford settlement money.

There is a growing firestorm over the allegations of massive fraud in the Pigford settlements[.] ... According to sworn testimony by John Boyd, President of the National Black Farmers Association, there are 18,000 black farmers. They could not all have been victims of discrimination. To date, there have been over 94,000 claims made. These numbers speak to massive fraud, meaning that American taxpayers are on the hook for what Pigford judge Paul Friedman called "forty acres and a mule." (Emphasis added.)

It is common practice for Secretaries of Agriculture to sit down with members of the Agriculture Committee. It is uncommon for the topic of conversation to be as urgent and expensive as Pigford, with a price tag of $2.3 billion. Secretary Vilsack has an obligation to the American taxpayers to cooperate with an investigation of Pigford fraud.

The Senate may be poised to pass the Obama administration's request for additional Pigford funding. Pigford payouts must be stopped until Congress and the USDA can conduct a thorough investigation.

Black politicians are quick to say that Pigford is not about reparations. If that is the case, the math needs a bit of explaining. Boyd testified that there are 18,000 black farmers on one hand and then supports billions in payouts in a program that has 94,000 people claiming they were injured? It is to be hoped that as a member of a new Republican majority, Congressman King can look at how the plaintiff's bar and black activists ballooned a small settlement into a billion-dollar boondoggle.