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Black farmers call on U.S. Senate to fund settlement

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Will black farmers get their due?
  • NEW: Association chief urges final Senate vote on black farmers' aid by end of month
  • The settlement involves the U.S. Agriculture Department
  • Qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias
  • Democrats and Republicans have supported paying out the money

New York (CNN) -- The head of the National Black Farmers Association renewed his call Tuesday for Congress to fund a historic discrimination case settlement involving minority farmers.

He slammed the sharply divided Senate for repeatedly stripping funding provisions from different bills, and urged President Obama to call for a decisive vote on the measure by the end of September.

"Suffering is an understatement of what is going on with black farmers," John Boyd said in front of a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan. We "are tired of waiting."

Boyd said black farmers are losing land at a rate three times faster than other agricultural workers. He said that it takes nearly 400 days to process a black farmer's loan request at the Agriculture Department, compared with less than 30 days for white farmers.

"Congress has money for everything -- to bail out banks, Wall Street, AIG, everybody," he said. But "we can't seem to get this done. There is something terribly wrong with that picture."

Boyd showed up in front of the courthouse with a mule -- a reference to Civil War-era promises of assistance for freed African-American slaves.

Last month, the U.S. Senate failed to approve $1.25 billion for the settlement between the U.S. Agriculture Department and black farmers, 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," Boyd said after the August 5 outcome.

A 1997 case against the Agriculture Department, Pigford v. Glickman, was settled out of court 11 years ago, but tens of thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline to submit claims.

As a senator, Obama sponsored a measure in the 2008 Farm Bill that reopened the case, known as Pigford II.

The $1.25 billion settlement is owed to the farmers after years of being denied government farm loans and support from federal programs because of the color of their skin.

Under a federal judge's terms dating to 1999, qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias.

In February, the Department of Justice released a statement saying Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were announcing a resolution to Pigford II. The statement said the settlement agreement is contingent on the appropriation of funds by Congress.

"Following the appropriation, class members may pursue their individual claims through a non-judicial claims process in front of a neutral arbitrator," the Justice Department statement said.

"Claimants who establish their credit-related claims will be entitled to receive up to $50,000 and debt relief. A separate track may provide actual damages of up to $250,000 through a more rigorous process. The actual value of awards may be reduced based on the total amount of funds made available and the number of successful claims."

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

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

But the attempt to approve the funds in August failed in the Senate. It was the seventh attempt by the Senate to approve the funds, Boyd said.

CNN's Shawna Shepherd, Alan Silverleib, Elise Zeiger and Ed Hornick contributed to this report.