Despite numerous allegations of fraud, the Senate approved legislation by a voice vote Friday to fund $1.15 billion worth of settlements to black farmers who claim the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against them.
The legislation now makes its way to the House, where Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Steve King of Iowa, and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia have made it clear that they will be pushing hard to prevent its passage and will be calling for investigations into every claim prior to allowing any payoffs.
Much of the cause for concern is the fact that there have been vastly more claims of discrimination than there are even black farmers in America. Sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee by the president of the National Black Farmers Association, John Boyd, put the number of black farmers in America at 18,000.
To date, more than 94,000 individuals have filed discrimination claims.
This is the second payoff from a 1999 class action settlement, known as Pigford vs. Glickman, in which the original plaintiff Timothy Pigford, along with 400 others, sued USDA for discrimination in its allocation of loans. The plaintiffs won, but since then, the number of claimants have vastly ballooned to unanticipated levels.
Over $1 billion has already been paid out to over 16,000 people, and this second round is expected to pay off an additional estimated 70,000 – 80,000 who missed the deadline to file their initial claims.
King told The Daily Caller that the process by which the money has been allocated is flawed.
“This new settlement, Pigford II, is not a class action lawsuit. This has not been approved by the court. This is something that has been negotiated by Eric Holder, Tom Vilsack and John Boyd,” King said. “They just sat down and made a deal. Congress doesn’t know what they’ve done [by passing it].”
USDA employees and FBI officials estimate that the number of fraudulent claims range from 50 percent to 95 percent.
Bachmann told TheDC that despite all the fuss over discrimination, there has not been one firing, reprimand, censure or fine at the USDA.
“Everything has been hurry, hurry, hurry. We have to funnel the money out the door. Especially when it comes just before the election,” she said. “There was every incentive for individuals to scam the taxpayer and there was no down side because a Democrat controlled Congress failed to look into oversight of the issue.”
In addition to the money each claimant receives, USDA will forgive all their debt. Indeed, some have gone so far as to consider Pigford another form of reparations, pointing to the Pigford Judge Paul Friedman’s reference to “Forty acres and a mule” in the opening line in his consent decree.
“It is a hard thing to stop in this Congress, with Nancy Pelosi still holding the same majorities. This lame duck session will be characterized by spite. This is one of the spiteful things that they are bringing through that is anathema to the American dream,” King said. “It will be hard to stop, but not hard to investigate.”
Bachmann echoed King’s steadfast desire for investigations.
“Now it is up to the new Republican House to hold hearings and investigate every single claim before it goes out,” Bachmann said. “Considering the terrible restrictions that we have right now on our federal budget, I think that Pigford is one of the best illustrations of what is wrong with politics today in the United States — using federal tax money for political payoffs in order to get politicians elected.”