Davis takes up farmers’ cause

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 15, 2005

When it comes to the treatment of black farmers in the south, Congressman Artur Davis believes they are not given equal opportunities to be productive. Thus, he is attempting to reopen the case of Pigford v. Glickman.

“I have significant worries about the way the process played out,” Davis said about the case concerning black farmers and the USDA. “The part I am most persistent on is the status of litigation.”

In 1997, the case was opened as a class action lawsuit claiming the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against black farmers when it came to providing aid and financial loans.

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In order to settle the case, the court gave farmers until Oct. 12, 1999 to file a claim for compensation if they could prove discrimination by the USDA. If prejudice was proven, farmers would have been eligible for a $50,000 tax-exempt payment and would be considered first in line for future loans.

At the close of the window, only 22,000 of the more than 66,000 farmers involved in the case had filed a claim. Many applications were received late because of the lack of notification. Hence, the deadline was extended to Sept. 15, 2000.

Davis attributed the small number of claims to the methods of communication used to get information out to the farmers. Davis said the means were not good enough and now he is fighting to reopen the case to provide the missed chance to black farmers once again.

“The USDA did not give adequate notice to many individuals,” Davis said. “Our bill would address the problem and require the USDA to use adequate media, not just sending letters.”

According to Davis spokesperson Corey Ealons, television, radio and newsprint should be used in addition to letters.

“The USDA attempted to communicate, but they were using means in which the audience wasn’t there to receive the message.”

Davis said is asking for the claim to be reintroduced and allow farmers to resubmit applications for further reconsideration of those who weren’t able to get loans from the USDA.

To help Davis get the case opened again, Ealons suggested that black farmers talk to other members of congress and agricultural organizations they are involved in about the situation.

“They need to let them know they are aware of this and that this is something they want to pursue.”

In addition to Davis, South Carolina representative Ted Martin Vick said he too is following the case closely.

In a letter addressed to Thedford Rowser-Bey, a Demopolis native who is concerned with the matter, Vick said he has contacted key congressman about the decision.

“I have contacted the offices of South Carolina Congressman John Spratt and Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot, who chairs the U.S. House subcommittee on the implementation of the [Pigford v. Glickman] Consent Decree,” he wrote. “A fourth public hearing was set for sometime in June.”

“We’ve been exploring this for a year,” Davis said. “We are just trying to provide the opportunity for individuals who didn’t receive notice.”

Davis also warned people that no one could get farmers involved in the case if they weren’t already participating before the case dismissal in 1999.

Currently no new farmers could be added to the list for any amount of money, Ealons said.

“This is the first and most significant step that can be taken, especially for those who didn’t make it before it was settled,” Ealons said. “We are hoping once the suit is reopened they can get in.”