WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has reached a deal with black farmers that could end a years-long stalemate over alleged racial discrimination by the Agriculture Department.
The agency is planning to announce a $1.25 billion fund Thursday to compensate African-Americans who say they were unfairly denied assistance from USDA.
If approved by Congress, it would be the second round of damages stemming from a class-action lawsuit originally settled in 1999. The new money is intended for people who were denied earlier payments, often over missed deadlines.
President Barack Obama requested the same amount in his budget last year, saying he hoped to close a painful chapter in the agency’s history that has lingered for years. But the funding stalled in Congress as settlement negotiations continued over issues such as lawyers’ fees and the process for distributing payments.
With a deal in hand, officials believe they can win funding from Congress and begin distributing money soon.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is planning to discuss the agreement on an afternoon conference call.
Thousands of black farmers and would-be farmers — mostly from the South — say that local USDA offices routinely denied them loans and disaster aid that routinely went to whites.
The government paid out more than $1 billion on about 16,000 claims under the original lawsuit. The case is known as Pigford, named after Timothy Pigford, a black farmer from North Carolina who was among the original plaintiffs.
Most claimants opted to seek expedited payments that required a relatively low burden of proof. The payments were $50,000 plus $12,500 in tax breaks.
Civil rights advocates and others have pushed for another round of payments because thousands of people were denied claims. Many said they didn’t know about the settlement and missed deadlines for filing.
The new agreement calls for a payment process similar to the original settlement in which claimants can win compensation without going to court.