Rep. King seeks to stop payment on farmers' discrimination claims

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) late Wednesday night offered an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from paying claims related to charges that USDA discriminated against black farmers over several years.

King said the claims go back to the mid-1990s, when USDA acknowledged discrimination against black farmers in decisions related to granting farm loans or other assistance. Back then, King said, initial estimates were that 3,000 claims were expected.

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However, he said claims quickly exceeded 22,000, even though Census Bureau reports say there are only about 18,000 black farmers in the United States.

"You can't have more black farmers discriminated against than there actually are," King said.

King said just over $1 billion was paid for the initial wave of claims. However, he added there are now more than 94,000 claims, and said then-Senator Barack Obama helped to push through legislation in 2007 that allowed another $1.15 billion to be paid to settle these claims.

King said there has been "report after report" of fraud involving these claims, and said stopping payment on these claims would allow time to investigate them further.

"My amendment shuts off the funding that would be used to administer or to fund the balance of these… claims," he said. "This Congress cannot be paying out another $1.15 billion, good money going after bad claims."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) called on members to reject King's language, and said it would be "absurd" to interfere with the "legitimate settlement of legitimate claims."

"This was a lawsuit," she said. "Many of the litigants died before they even got to the settlement. This is the American way: a battle in the courts, a settlement."