Black farmer deadline moved

Published 9:35 pm Thursday, September 25, 2008

On April 14, 1999, Federal District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman approved a settlement agreement and consent decree resolving a class-action discrimination suit between the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and black farmers. The suit — known as Pigford v. Glickman — claimed that the agency had discriminated against black farmers on the basis of race and failed to investigate or properly respond to complaints from 1983 to 1997.

Under the consent decree, farmers were awarded remuneration for discrimination claims, with the government footing the $12,500 tax bill. According to the decree, those eligible for the award are black farmers who:

farmed or attempted to farm between January 1981 and Dec. 31, 1996

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applied to USDA for farm credit or program benefits and believes that he was discriminated against by the USDA on the basis of race, and

made a complaint against the USDA on or before July 1, 1997

The decree set up a two-track dispute resolution mechanism for those seeking relief. The most widely-used option — called “Track A” — provides a monetary settlement of $50,000 plus relief in the form of loan forgiveness and offsets of tax liability. The second track, “Track B,” required claimants to prove their claims and actual damages.

Under the original decree, claimants were given a deadline of Oct. 12, 1999, to file in the suit. Late-filing claimants were given until Sept. 15, 2000.

Unfortunately, many of those who qualified to take part in the class-action lawsuit filed late, with 73,800 petitions coming under the late filing procedure, and only 2,116 being allowed to proceed.

Last night, John Zippert of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistant Fund came to Demopolis’s Rooster Hall to provide information regarding this lawsuit. About 50 people were in attendance.

Zippert said that there had been a lot of misinformation regarding the lawsuit floating around, and that many people had fallen victim to scams and other misinformation.

“My hope is to explain where we are in this case,” he said. “I want to be as honest as I can as far as where this case stands and where you stand. Some of the problem has been where people have gone to meetings and paid other people money. There have been all kinds of scams.”

Zippert said that U.S. Rep. Artur Davis — who represents the counties of Marengo, Greene, Hale and Perry, among other west Alabama counties — was a guiding force in helping bring resolution in the lawsuit. Davis made a provision in the 2007 Farm Bill (which was enacted last June) that extended the deadline to file as a claimant in the Pigford case to May 2010 and set the limit for the total to be awarded at $100 million, although Zippert said that would not be enough to cover one-fourth of the claimants.

Audrey Haskin from Rep. Davis’s local office was also at the meeting, and said that her office would be able to provide general information about the lawsuit, but could not check on any claims.

Zippert said that those who are most likely to qualify are those 65,000 farmers who filed late claims by September 2000 and were given a tracking number.

He added that relatives of those who filed but have since passed away are also eligible to make a claim in the suit.

Zippert said that anyone who wanted to find out if they had made a late claim and had a tracking number could contact the Claims Facilitator in Portland, Ore., toll-free at 1 800 646-2873.