Lincoln urges Senate to fund USDA's Pigford II settlement over past discrimination

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Aug. 5 – In a plea to honor USDA's commitments to African American farmers, Senate Ag Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) said Thursday that “finally funding this settlement is a critical first step in restoring the USDA’s credibility among minority farmers.”

In an passionate Senate floor speech, Lincoln insisted that “The time is long overdue to move beyond USDA’s discriminatory past and begin to right the wrongs African American producers have experienced.” Her full statement follows:

“Mr. President, I come to the floor to urge my Senate colleagues to support an important piece of legislation to fund the racial discrimination settlement, known as Pigford II, between African American farmers and the United States Department of Agriculture. The time is long overdue to move beyond USDA’s discriminatory past and begin to right the wrongs African American producers have experienced.

“Between 1981 and 1996, African American farmers seeking farm loans and credit were discriminated against, denying them access to government programs and capital. In some cases, these farmers were discouraged from even applying for loans, told they were ineligible or that application forms were unavailable. In other instances, loan applications were intentionally delayed to miss deadlines, continuing to disadvantage these African American farmers.

“As a result of the discrimination, many of these farmers were unable to run successful businesses and sustained severe damages to their credit histories. Despite these challenges, some of these farmers are still farming today, embodying the essence of resilience and industriousness characteristic of all American farmers. Another fallout out from the discrimination faced by African American farmers is their shaken faith in the USDA and, by extension, the United States Government. Many farmers have spent more than 20 years seeking recognition of the discrimination they experienced. And while no settlement can completely compensate them for the anxiety, anguish and humiliation they experienced, finally funding this settlement is a critical first step in restoring the USDA’s credibility among minority farmers.

“Mr. President, while it’s understood that a legal settlement agreement is rarely perfect, funding this agreement will provide much needed reconciliation for African American farmers. It’s an opportunity to restore their faith in their government, by renouncing a past riddled with discrimination and rightfully honoring the settlement. Time is of the essence, as many Pigford claimants have passed away waiting for closure on this matter.

“We simply cannot afford to delay this process any further.

“In my own home state of Arkansas, I’ve heard the stories of hard- working farm families who, despite years of neglect and discrimination from their own government, continued pushing ahead.

“I’ve heard the stories of farmers like Mr. Charlie Knott, a hard-working Arkansan who sought farm loans in the 1980s but was misled and mistreated in the process. Mr. Knott was refused timely access to sufficient capital because of discrimination, limiting production and ultimately crippling his business. When Mr. Knott fell ill, his children tried to take over the farm, but were also met with resistance and neglect from their government, leading to destroyed credit ratings, a loss of 230 acres as well as the family tractor and other farm equipment. After farming on the same land for over 100 years, the Knot family was forced to quit.

“Adding insult to injury, the Knott children were once again denied access to the Pigford claim because of missed filing deadlines. The Knott children are determined to return to farming, to restore the family business and uphold the legacy of their father, who fought for years not only to serve his family and community, but to contribute to the strong legacy that is American farming. Our farmers, farmers like Mr. Knott, deserve justice and gratitude from a nation that wouldn’t be what it is today, absent their sacrifices and contributions.

“Mr. President, farmers like Mr. Knott have suffered gross injustices. It is incumbent on the Members of this Congress to demonstrate the leadership to correct it and pass this legislation.

“This action is long overdue. The time has come to take this step, live up to our founding principles, begin the healing the process, and restore faith in our government. I urge all of my colleagues to support this measure.

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