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Senate fails to OK funds for years-old settlement with minority farmers

By the CNN Wire Staff
John Boyd Jr. is the president of the National Black Farmers Association.
John Boyd Jr. is the president of the National Black Farmers Association.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Senate failed to approve nearly $5 billion for a settlement with minority farmers
  • The settlement between the Agriculture Department and minority farmers was reached in 1999
  • Prominent members of both parties have voiced support for approving the funds
  • The National Black Farmers Association blamed both parties for the impasse

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. Senate failed Thursday to approve nearly $5 billion for a settlement between the Agriculture Department and minority farmers reached more than a decade ago, prompting finger pointing by members of both parties and outrage among many black farmers.

"We are very, very, very disappointed that we are just caught up in such a larger political fight in the Senate, where it's just partisan division," said John Boyd, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association.

"It seems like for the trains leaving the station in the Senate, they manage not to have the black farmers on them," Boyd said, calling on President Barack Obama to help break the logjam.

The 1997 Pigford v. Glickman case against the U.S. Agriculture Department was settled out of court 11 years ago. Under a federal judge's terms dating to 1999, qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias.

Video: Will black farmers get their due?

In July, the House approved a war supplemental bill that included money to pay for the settlement.

The attempt to approve the funds Thursday failed in the Senate after Republicans rejected a Democratic unanimous consent agreement to approve the money, with the GOP complaining about how the Democrats planned to pay for the settlement. It was the seventh attempt by the Senate to approve the funds in recent weeks, Boyd said.

Prominent members of both parties have voiced support for paying out the settlements.

"Everyone that steps to the microphone says they support the black farmers," said Boyd. "But they can't put aside their political bickering so the black farmers can get on with their lives."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blamed Republicans for the impasse. "Securing justice for those have been wronged should never be a partisan issue," he said in a Thursday statement. "But that's exactly what Republicans have made it."

"If Republicans cannot put aside their obstructionist tactics so that we can settle a non-controversial, non-partisan issue like this," Reid said, "on what will they agree to work with Democrats?"

Boyd declined to lay blame at the feet of Republicans alone. "I think one party is just as responsible as the other," he said.

 
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