President Obama wants the federal government to provide $1.25 billion to cover claims by Black farmers who say they were systematically denied loans and other aid that was traditionally afforded White farmers.
Obama plans to include the funding in his 2010 budget, according to White House officials.
Initially, Black farmers had welcomed an Obama presidency, believing they had a better chance of being compensated than they did with the Bush administration. But earlier this year, a leading Black farmers group and members of the Congressional Black Caucus blasted the president, whom they said had neglected to fully acknowledge the farmers’ lawsuit against the government.
This week, Obama said he hopes his proposal will "close this chapter" in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s history.
"My hope is that the farmers and their families who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will have the chance to rebuild their lives and their businesses," he said.
Obama’s staunchest critic on the matter, John Boyd, said the president’s proposal is a “step in the right direction.” Boyd, who leads the National Black Farmers Association, said, "We think this is a good step in the negotiating process. We're glad to know this issue is on the president's radar screen and we commend him for taking this step, but we need to make sure that none of the Black farmers are left out."
Boyd spearheaded the class-action lawsuit. The government settled a decade ago, paying out nearly $1 billion in damages on about 16,000 claims. But since then, other farmers have pushed to reopen the case, arguing that they missed filing deadlines. Many of them said they didn't even know the could collect damages.