By Alexander Bolton - 07/30/10 06:13 PM EDT
African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.
Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to President Obama on Thursday calling on him to find a way to compensate black farmers who suffered discrimination in government loan programs during the 1980s and 1990s.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel promised Lincoln, who sponsored the provision, that the administration would find a way to pay out $1.5 million in disaster assistance to farmers while they wait for programs in the 2008 farm bill to be implemented.
At the same time, the administration has told black farmers it lacks the funds to pay a $1.2 billion agreement they reached with the Department of Agriculture in 1999 to settle the Pigford class-action lawsuit.
The agriculture disaster relief had been included in the small-business bill until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled it at the last minute in a bid for GOP support.
Members of the black caucus say that if the administration can find $1.5 billion within its administrative funds to pay mostly white farmers in Arkansas and other states, it should be able to pay black farmers who suffered discrimination.
“The current hardships experienced by other farmers should not trump hardships placed on African Americans and Native Americans by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the past,” they wrote.
The lawmakers say that Obama should also take administrative action to pay $3.4 billion the federal government promised to settle claims that it mismanaged Native American trust funds. Elouise Cobell is the lead plaintiff in the case against the Interior Department.
“At every turn, the response provided for not funding these claims has been a lack of money available to fund the settlements,” the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers said they became concerned after learning that Emanuel had promised to address the needs of other farmers with $1.5 billion in assistance.
“As the CBC is well aware, ‘justice deferred is justice denied,’ ” the lawmakers wrote. “The black and Native American claimants across our nation have long waited for a fair settlement of their cases. The continued failure to fund these settlements has exacerbated an economic catastrophe for many of these individuals.”
Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), G.K. Butterfield (N.C.), Artur Davis (Ala.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), David Scott (Ga.) and Sanford Bishop (Ga.) signed the letter.
Emanuel promised Lincoln that the president would take administrative action to pay $1.5 billion to help farmers waiting for assistance from the 2008 farm bill, as way to secure her support for the bill.
“I don’t forget who I represent,” Lincoln told The Hill. “I’m willing to stand up to my caucus and everybody else to remind them who I represent. And I do represent farmers.”
Despite deleting the disaster assistance for farmers, Reid failed to win any Republican votes to cut off debate on the business bill.