[Congressional Record Volume 156, Number 118 (Thursday, August 5, 2010)]
[Pages S6836-S6837]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                           PIGFORD SETTLEMENT

  Mrs. HAGAN. Madam President, I rise to associate myself with the 
remarks of the chair of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Lincoln, as 
well as Senators Grassley and Landrieu, concerning the importance of 
providing funding to pay the still pending claims of the Black farmers 
who were discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 
This case has North Carolina roots. Timothy Pigford, a Black farmer, 
was the focal point for this class action lawsuit. He grew up in 
Columbus County and had a farm in Bladen County, NC. He was first 
denied a Federal loan to buy a farm in 1976.
  Mr. Pigford and others filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for 
the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 
Pigford v. Glickman, alleging that the USDA maintained a pattern and 
practice of discrimination against Black farmers.
  In 1999, the government settled the Pigford v. Glickman case, finding 
that thousands of African-American farmers were in fact discriminated 
against when applying for benefits that would help their farms.
  Under the terms of the settlement, eligible farmers initially were 
required to submit completed claims packages by October 12, 1999. This 
deadline was subsequently extended by the court to September 15, 2000. 
Approximately 61,000 petitions were filed after the original October 
1999 deadline but before the September 2000 late filing deadline. Of 
these 61,000 petitions, only around 2,500 were permitted to proceed to 
a determination on the merits. Over 25,000 additional petitions were 
filed after the September 2000 late filing deadline and before the May 
2008 enactment of the 2008 farm bill.
  It is quite clear that inadequate notice was provided to those who 
had viable claims of discrimination against the USDA. Because of this 
inadequate notice, many farmers were denied participation in the 
Pigford claims resolution process as late filers.
  The 2008 farm bill provided $100 million to pay the outstanding 
claims of the so-called late filers. However, the amount of money that 
was set aside in the farm bill for the settlement is totally inadequate 
to satisfy the damages that more than 4,000 African-American farmers in 
North Carolina, and a total of 75,000 nationwide, could be eligible to 
  Last February, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack reached a 
settlement agreement with the farmers who filed claims after the 
deadline set by the court who were originally denied a determination of 
their Pigford claims. This settlement agreement provides, once and for 
all, sufficient awards for farmers who were the victims of 
discrimination at the hands of their own government, the U.S. 
Department of Agriculture.
  The Federal Government has failed to live up to its obligations to 
our Black farmers, including more than 4,000 in my State of North 
  Today the Senate has the opportunity to live up to its obligations 
and right this wrong. I believe it is imperative that we address this 
inequity for Black farmers across the country, including those in North 
Carolina, and I hope we are able to reach an agreement to resolve this 
issue today.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Illinois.
  Mr. BURRIS. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to speak as in 
morning business.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. BURRIS. Madam President, even though he has left the floor, I 
would like to thank the distinguished Senator from Wyoming for 
permitting me to proceed. I want to comment on what the distinguished 
Senator from North Carolina spoke on because that is my topic as well. 
We hope to be able to bring up this issue on the Senate floor and get 
some justice for the Black farmers.
  I come to the floor today to speak about justice and the Department 
of Agriculture. Let me go back a few years.
  Though civil rights legislation in the 1960s was supposed to have 
outlawed racial discrimination, at least on the Federal level, a 1982 
report issued by the Civil Rights Commission stated that the USDA was 
``a catalyst in the decline of the black farmer.''
  That year, African-American farmers received only 1 percent of all 
farm ownership loans, only 2.5 percent of all farm-operating loans, and 
only 1 percent of all soil and water conservation loans. That year, 
too, the Reagan administration closed the USDA's Civil Rights Office--
the very arm that investigated discrimination complaints.
  Adding insult to injury, when African-American and other minority 
farmers filed complaints, the USDA did little to address them. In 1983, 
President Reagan pushed through budget cuts that eliminated the USDA 
Office of Civil Rights--and officials admitted they ``simply threw 
discrimination complaints in the trash without ever responding to or 
investigating them'' until 1996, when President Clinton ordered the 
office re-opened.
  Even when there were legal findings of discrimination at USDA, they 
often went unpaid--and those that did get paid, the money often came 
too late, since the farm had already been foreclosed.
  In 1984 and 1985, the USDA lent $1.3 billion to farmers nationwide to 
buy land. Of the almost 16,000 farmers who received those funds, only 
209 were Black. By 1992, in North Carolina, the number of Black farms 
had fallen to 2,498, a 64 percent drop since 1978.
  In Illinois, there are many similar stories. As a child growing up on 
the family farm in west central Illinois, Lloyd Johnson remembers 
cropland extending for miles around, all of it owned by African-
Americans like himself. ``For a stretch of four miles, it was black-
owned land,'' the 66-year-old farmer recalls. ``Now there's mighty 
  Today, Johnson's farm in Alton, IL, is one of just 59 run by African 
Americans across the State, down from 123 in 1997, according to revised 
figures from a 2002 census. As farming has become a big business, it 
has become one of the least diverse businesses around.
  It was not always. In 1920, Illinois had 892 Black farmers, and 
African Americans owned 14 percent of the Nation's farmland. Now they 
hold less than 1 percent. The same pressure to consolidate that has 
reduced the ranks of farmers for the past century is making any 
turnaround unlikely, demographers say. The number of Black farmers in 
Illinois, currently less than one in 1,000, appears destined to 
eventually hit zero. Probably there will be none very shortly.
  In 1990, The Minority Farmers Rights Act, created to address the 
injustices noted at USDA, and passed in this body by former Senator 
Wyche Fowler of Georgia, who sat on the Agriculture Committee, 
authorized $10 million a year in technical assistance to minority 
  The new program was only able to garner $2 to $3 million a year under 
President Reagan, and was in danger of being de-funded altogether. As 
working capital and technical assistance was systematically denied to 
Black farmers across America, most rural African-American farmers did 
not have access to essential legal assistance and fell prey to land 
speculators and unscrupulous lawyers.
  In 1994, the Land Loss Prevention Project filed a Freedom of 
Information Act lawsuit on behalf of Black farmers, turning key 
information over to Congress to investigate discriminatory practices by 
the USDA. Again, USDA released a report analyzing data from 1990 to 
1995, and found that ``minorities received less than their fair share 
of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.''
  In 1997, a USDA Civil Rights Team found the agency's system for 
handling civil rights complaints was still in shambles: the agency 
disorganized, the process for handling complaints about program 
benefits ``a failure,'' and the process for handling employment 
discrimination claims was ``untimely and unresponsive.''
  A follow-up report by the GAO in 1999 found that 44 percent of 
program discrimination cases, and 64 percent of employment 
discrimination cases, had been backlogged for over a year.
  It was against this backdrop in 1997, that a group of Black farmers 
led by Tim Pigford of North Carolina filed a class action lawsuit 
against the USDA. In all, 22,000 farmers were granted access to the 
lawsuit, and in 1999, the government admitted wrongdoing and agreed to 
a $2.3 billion settlement--the largest civil rights settlement in 

[[Page S6837]]

  However, African-American farmers had misgivings with the process of 
the Pigford settlement. Many farmers who joined the lawsuit were also 
denied payment. By one estimate, 9 out of 10 farmers who sought 
restitution under Pigford were denied. The Bush Department of Justice 
spent 56,000 office hours and 12 million contesting farmers' claims; 
and many farmers feel their cases were dismissed on technicalities.

  I would like to remember what Congresswoman Eva Clayton, an African-
American Democrat from North Carolina, said at a March 1999 Black 
farmers rally at the Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC: ``There is 
reason to despair . . . There are several reasons why the number of 
black farmers is declining so rapidly. But the one that has been 
documented time and time again, is the discriminatory environment 
present in the Department of Agriculture . . . the very agency 
established to accommodate the special needs of farmers . . . Once land 
is lost, it is very difficult to recover . . . We stand here today in 
despair over this history. Yet, we also stand here today in hope that 
justice will prevail, and that the record will be set right for those 
farmers who have been wronged . . . ''
  Shortly after coming into office, President Obama's Secretary of 
Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, signaled a change in direction at USDA. The 
Secretary has declared ``A New Civil Rights Era at USDA,'' and stepped-
up handling of civil rights claims in the agency.
  This year, Secretary Vilsack responded to concerns over handling of 
the original Pigford case, agreeing to a historic second payment in 
April, known as Pigford II, that would expand the settlement to farmers 
who were excluded from the first case.
  We are here today to help put an end to this long-standing injustice. 
Pigford II is before us and will help make right this history of 
discrimination by one of our own government agencies.
  I want to thank Leader Reid for his unceasing efforts in bringing the 
Pigford II and Cobell settlements before us, and I thank others who 
came before me and those of us here today, on both sides of the aisle, 
who have advanced the force of justice on this issue.
  I urge my colleagues to consider carefully this important question 
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.