(Photo: AP Photo/GosiaWozniacka)
A federal judge gave the settlement a final stamp of approval Thursday, ultimately allowing tens of thousands of farmers who were left out of a 1999 settlement because they missed the filing deadline, to be included among the awardees. The $1.25 billion settlement was reached with the government back in February 2010 as compensation for racial discrimination by the USDA, which resulted in a pattern of Black farmers being excluded from federal farm loan and assistance programs. Approval of the funds for the late-filing farmers was held up for months by congressional bickering.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman wrote that Congress, by waiving the statute of limitations, has further redressed "the historic discrimination against African-American farmers," and he called the settlement "fair, reasonable and adequate.
John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association hailed Thursday’s decision as historic and signaled that there is still work to be done to ensure that the funds are distributed fairly.
“Today is an important day, in fact a truly historic day for the nation’s Black farmers and for all of those who worked so hard to give every farmer their day in court so they may be compensated for the government’s discrimination,” said Boyd. “We look forward to a hearing on the fairness of the distribution of legal fees. This issue should not hold up or slow down a single payment to the farmers, but must be resolved by the court in an appropriate manner.”
The original Pigford class-action lawsuit, named after North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford, was settled in 1999 for $1 billion, two years after a group of African-American farmers sued then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.