Senators Introduce Bill to Fund USDA Discrimination Settlement Payout

Three Democratic senators introduced legislation that would provide $1.15 billion to settle claims by black farmers who were discriminated against by USDA employees.

Three Democratic senators introduced legislation that would provide $1.15 billion to settle claims by black farmers who were discriminated against by USDA employees. The three are Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

According to a statement, the legislation will ensure that African American farmers who were unfairly discriminated against when applying for loans, credit and other forms of financial help will receive the settlement to which they are entitled. The bill also would extend the statute of limitations on certain outstanding discrimination complaints at USDA.

The statement made no mention of proposed offsets needed to fund the bill. Since the legislation has been introduced so late in this Congress, it could be difficult for Senate leadership to schedule the measure for a floor vote in the upcoming lame duck session. If the measure is not approved before the end of this session of Congress, its sponsors would need to re-introduce it during the 112th Congress that will be seated in January.

Last week, Senate Democrats continued to negotiate with Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in an effort to reach an agreement that could lead to Senate approval of settlements in long-running class action lawsuits against the federal government by both black farmers and American Indians.

A spokeswoman for Grassley said discussions include both cases: a $1.15 billion settlement for the black farmers alleging past racial discrimination against them and denial of services by USDA, and a $3.4 billion settlement in the lawsuit alleging financial mismanagement by the Interior Department of thousands of American Indian trust accounts.

An earlier effort to get unanimous consent for passage of a stand-alone bill ratifying the two settlements failed Aug. 5 when Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) raised objections to the amount approved for lawyers' fees, which are capped at $100 million. Barrasso wanted to limit the fees to $50 million. 

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