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House approves measure funding black farmers' settlement

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Slavery reparations or just settlements?
  • NEW: Cabinet members hail final passage of the measure
  • Leader of black farmers group calls it "vindication and justice"
  • The measure now goes to President Obama for his signature
  • It also has funding for a separate settlement involving Native American trust funds

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a $1.15 billion measure to fund a settlement initially reached between the Agriculture Department and minority farmers more than a decade ago.

The 1997 Pigford v. Glickman case against the U.S. Agriculture Department over claims of discrimination against black farmers 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.

The legislation passed Tuesday also funds a separate $3.4 billion settlement reached with the Department of Interior for mishandling Native American trust funds, along with four separate water rights lawsuits brought by Native American tribes. It had been approved by the Senate and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

"It's vindication and justice for black farmers," said John Boyd, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. "This is what I wanted. I wanted a final restitution from the government so the black farmers can move on."

Obama said in a statement that the measure passed Tuesday would "bring this painful chapter in our nation's history to a close."

"While today's vote demonstrates important progress, we must remember that much work remains to be done," Obama said, adding that officials are still working to resolve similar discrimination lawsuits filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture by women and Latino farmers.

Black farmer settlements or reparations?

Attorney General Eric Holder called the settlements "historic" and said they "offer a new relationship between many deserving Americans and the federal agencies that play an important role in their lives," while Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said passage of the measure would help his department "move beyond this sad chapter in our history."

Boyd acknowledged that the $50,000 compensation for eligible farmers will far exceed the amounts of individual loans many were denied under discrimination cited in the case. However, he said, no amount of money could properly compensate for the discrimination experienced by black farmers.

"I don't think this is about the money. I think this is about justice," Boyd said.

He rejected claims by Republican critics of the settlement that the claims process was fraudulent.

"This case was about justice for black farmers who waited for so very long," Boyd said, saying it involved discrimination, not fraud.

Vilsack's statement also rejected the fraud claim, saying, "the bill that passed the Senate and House includes strong protections against waste, fraud, and abuse to ensure integrity of the claims process."