THE DEADLINE IS MARCH 31. One thing is for sure regarding the Black Farmer settlement: Believe nothing — absolutely nothing — until the checks are cut and deposited in the bank. The deadline for the latest deal on black farmers is March 31. That would be this Wednesday. Congress is out for Easter recess until April 13. Last Wednesday, National Black Farmers Association Pres. John Boyd, Sen. Kay Hagen and Reps. John Conyers and Bobby Scott held a news conference, called by Rep. Artur Davis, on Black Farmers. Artur Davis was a noshow.
THE FACTS ARE THESE. Back in 1999 a group of farmers led by Timothy Pigford sued the Department of Agriculture claiming that black farmers were not receiving the same loans and assistance as white farmers. They easily proved their case and won. During the Bush years the discrimination cases piled up even higher as white farmers continued to receive a much higher percentage of subsidies than black farmers. Since the black farmers won their case in 1999, the case sat around through the eight years of George Bush during which their situation was completely ignored.
MOVE FORWARD TO FEBRUARY 2010. The President puts out a vague lifeless statement (see below) after Ag Sec Vilsack and AG Holder announce that a $1.2 billion fund for the farmers will be set up. Problem is, Congress has to vote on the $1.2 billion. This all happens after PAYGO becomes law so someone has to find $1.2 billion in the budget to pay the $1.2 billion to the farmers. Fat chance. I spoke with Barbara Lee last Monday and she was barely able to find $600,000 million for summer jobs.
••• WEEK OF MARCH 22, 2010 ••• During the presser on Wednesday, John Conyers demanded a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He got it. The meeting happened in Rayburn 2138, the back ante room of the House Judiciary Committee at 5:30 p.m and I attended it. Here’s where it was revealed what the (current) problem was, and still is: No one knew who in the process should request the $1.2 billion. Vilsack claimed it should be Congress. The members present (John Conyers, Steve Cohen, Rosa DeLauro, and Bobby Scott) were under the impression that President Obama or Secretary Vilsack had to request an emergency appropriation for the $1.2 billion.
FUMBLE. That no one figured this out prior to last week that this was an issue is a fumble. Now the deadline will pass on Wednesday and the process looks to be blown up again. The Obama Administration’s lack of enthusiasm to finish this thing is noticeable. The fact no one at the Department of Agriculture called Congress to say, “what’s up…” over the last month is dubious. It took John Conyers throwing a hissy fit to get a meeting that probably should have happened in late February. The President has never said anything publicly on the issue and Gibbs is doing all the talking.
February 18, 2010 statement by the President on the Settlement in the Black Farmers Lawsuit against USDA: “My Administration is dedicated to ensuring that federal agencies treat all our citizens fairly, and the settlement in the Pigford case reflects that commitment. I applaud Secretary Vilsack for his efforts to modernize operations at the USDA, as well as the work of the Justice Department in bringing 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.”