Three Republican congressmen are calling on the Obama administration to launch an investigation into allegations of widespread fraud into a long fought farmer discrimination suit known as Pigford vs. Glickman.
Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Steve King of Iowa, and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, want to know how it is that over 94,000 black farmers have sought reparations for discrimination, when data show that there are only 33,000 black farmers in the United States? And why, if the discrimination was so widespread, no USDA official was ever fired for it?
For those not familiar with the case, in 1997, 400 black farmers joined Timothy Pigford in a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) alleging that from 1983-1997 racial discrimination prevented them from receiving loans for which they were qualified.
After filing suit against the nominal defendant in the case, Dan Glickman, the then Secretary of Agriculture, Pigford sought “blanket mediation” to cover all the farmers wrongfully denied loans — at that time estimated to be about 2,000 beneficiaries. The Department of Justice refused, instead requesting that each case be investigated on an individual basis.
In 1999, the parties agreed to a settlement whereby black farmers were granted two options, as described in a Congressional Research Service explained in a written report:
“Track A — provide[d] a monetary settlement of $50,000 plus relief in the form of loan forgiveness and offsets of tax liability. Track A claimants had to present substantial evidence…Alternatively, class participants could seek a larger, tailored payment by showing evidence of greater damages under a Track B claim. Track B claimants had to prove their claims and actual damages by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Under this system, the number of claimants ballooned into figures far higher than anything estimated, according to Congressional records. 22,505 individuals claimed Track A status, 59% of those (13,348) were granted approval and 172 were approved for Track B status. Over 73,000 petitions were filed after the deadline, of those 2,116 were allowed to proceed. As of 2009, approximately a billion dollars had been allocated to Track A applicants.
In February of this year, the Obama administration announced a plan to rectify the perceived injustice of excluding those late filers, by doling out $1.25 billion to the over 70,000 late applicants who claimed discrimination on the part of the USDA.
“I’m going to focus all my time and resources on making that happen,” The Washington Post reported current agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack saying on the day of the administration’s announcement. “The president is prepared to indicate that it’s a priority not just for his administration but for the country.”
Bachmann, King, and Goodlatte spoke to reporters on Wednesday, voicing their concerns and highlighting the contentions of unnamed whistle blowers who have approached them, many of whom estimate that around 80% of the claims filed have been fraudulent.