By Kevin Bogardus - 02/18/10 10:56 PM EST
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said Thursday she will work on Capitol Hill to resolve discrimination claims against the Agriculture Department (USDA).
The centrist senator, who is in charge of the Senate Agriculture Committee and is facing a tough reelection campaign this year, said she will help find funding to resolve black farmers’ discrimination claims against USDA after the Obama administration reached a new settlement with the group.
The Justice Department and USDA announced their deal with the black farmers Thursday, agreeing to a $1.25 billion settlement. It follows a 1999 agreement, known as the Pigford settlement, where the federal government agreed to compensate black farmers for decades of discrimination. The new settlement was reached to allow late claimants who missed the original Pigford settlement to re-file and secure compensation.
The $1.25 billion figure encompasses $100 million already appropriated in the 2008 Farm Bill as well as the administration’s 2011 budget request of $1.15 billion to resolve the remaining claims.
As an Illinois senator, President Barack Obama was a key lawmaker in getting the $100 million for black farmers in the Farm Bill. In a statement Thursday, Obama applauded Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the Justice Department for their work on the issue and said he looked forward to a “swift resolution” to the outstanding claims.
That said, Congress will still have to act on the president’s budget request this year and appropriate the requisite funds to fulfill the settlement. Lincoln, as head of the Agriculture panel in the Senate, will be key in seeing that those funds are found this year.
Black farmers groups have been lobbying hard to see their discrimination claims resolved and promised to push lawmakers to find the funds.
“Together we will take this agreement to Congress, where our years of building bipartisan support for closure will be put to the test,” said John Boyd, Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, in a statement. “These farmers simply cannot and should not have to wait any longer — Congress must follow the Administration's lead and act now."