By Jon H. Harsch
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
Washington, Sept. 29 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and three Republican lawmakers voiced opposite views Wednesday on the proposed $1.2 billion Pigford II settlement regarding past USDA discrimination against black farmers. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) charged that making a $1.2 billion deal without a fraud investigation and without either congressional or court approval is a prime example of “how votes get bought.”
King along with Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) charged in a press conference that 75% or more of the Pigford discrimination claims may be fraudulent. Bachmann listed but did not name three people “prepared to testify before a congressional committee concerning fraud they have witnessed under Pigford.” She said these potential witnesses include “a black farmer who was an original litigant against the U.S. Department of Agriculture” and two USDA employees who worked in the South on USDA farm loans.
Bachman said the black farmer “is personally aware of homeless people who have received Pigford payments and attorneys who have trolled throughout neighborhoods signing up claimants that were known to have never farmed” and “federal government employees who recruited illegitimate Pigford claims and took a kick-back for securing them money.” She said a USDA employee responsible for processing Pigford claims is willing to testify that “He saw numerous instances where multiple forms were filled out with the same identical handwriting, same identical narrative, and same identical content, with only the names changed. . . He believes that 80% of Pigford claims were probably fraudulent.”
Backmann insisted that rather than authorize paying out an additional $1.2 billion for a Pigford II agreement which has not been approved by either Congress or the courts, Congress should “withhold funding Pigford II, until after Attorney General Holder conducts a fraud investigation into the underlying claims of both Pigford I and II.” She said all legitimate discrimination claims must be paid “because there should not be discrimination against any American.” But she also said that “there must be an investigation before one more dime of taxpayer money is spent.”
Bachman and King also questioned why, if there has been massive discrimination at USDA in the past, not a single USDA employee has been either fired or reprimanded. King said he raised this specific question when he met Tuesday with Vilsack “and his response was that he is not willing to re-litigate Pigford I, that there are new people in place to evaluate Pigford II, and that we can't go back to the 1980s, or this would include also the 1990s, and bring punishment against people that may have committed discrimination.”
Goodlatte pointed out that “This is not the first time that we have raised the issue that there is massive amounts of fraud alleged in this process . . . We spoke out about this at the time the Farm Bill was written three years ago.”
After quoting former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer's warning that “Congress is considering spending $8 to $10 billion of taxpayers' money to pay any claim of discrimination against the government,” Bachmann warned that paying $1.2 billion for Pigford II without a thorough investigation beforehand could open the floodgates to discrimination claims by other groups such as Native Americans and women.
In a formal statement Wednesday calling on Congress to fund the Pigford II settlement agreement, Secretary Vilsack stated that:
“Black farmers throughout the country unfortunately faced discrimination in past decades when trying to obtain services from USDA. This discrimination is well-documented, the courts have affirmed this discrimination, and Congress has twice acknowledged the need to settle with those who have suffered from this discrimination. It is now time for Congress to pass the funding so the victims of this discrimination can get the opportunity to receive the compensation that they are due.
“While members of Congress have noted the bipartisan support for this legislation, it is time for Congress to turn their support into action and fund the settlement agreement once and for all. The time for Congressional action to fund the settlement agreement is running out, and the victims of this discrimination should not need to wait a day longer. Congress should not leave today without exhausting every option for passing legislation that provides for the funding.”
To read a detailed response to the
three Republican' fraud allegations, go to:
www.agri-pulse.com/20101006G_Heather_Gray_Responds_to_Pigford_Payments_Allegations.asp For previous coverage of Pigford, go
and www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/20100527%20Pigford.pdf To return to the News Index page,
click: www.agri-pulse.com #30
To read a detailed response to the three Republican' fraud allegations, go to: www.agri-pulse.com/20101006G_Heather_Gray_Responds_to_Pigford_Payments_Allegations.asp
For previous coverage of Pigford, go to: www.agri-pulse.com/20100927_Pigford_case_investigation_requested_King.asp and www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/20100527%20Pigford.pdf
To return to the News Index page, click: www.agri-pulse.com