RIPOFF OF THE AMERICAN TAXPAYERS
Pigford v. Glickman was a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (the “USDA”), alleging racial discrimination in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1983 and 1997. The lawsuit ended with a settlement in which the U.S. government agreed to pay African American farmers $50,000 each if they had attempted to get USDA help but failed.
To date, almost $1 billion has been paid or credited to the farmers under the settlement’s consent decree.
The lawsuit was filed in 1997 by Timothy Pigford, who was joined by 400 additional African American farmer plaintiffs. Dan Glickman, the Secretary of Agriculture, was the nominal defendant. The allegations were that the USDA treated black farmers unfairly when deciding to allocate price support loans, disaster payments, “farm ownership” loans, and operating loans, and that the USDA had completely failed to process subsequent complaints about racial discrimination.
After the lawsuit was filed, Pigford requested blanket mediation to cover what was thought to be about 2,000 farmers who may have been discriminated against, but the U.S. Department of Justice opposed the mediation, saying that each case had to be investigated separately. As the case moved toward trial, the presiding judge certified as a class all black farmers who filed discrimination complaints against the USDA between 1983 and 1997.
The plaintiffs settled with the government in 1999. Under the consent decree, all African American farmers would be paid a “virtually automatic” $50,000 plus granted certain loan forgiveness and tax offsets. This process was called “Track A”.
Alternatively, affected farmers could follow the “Track B” process, seeking a larger payment by presenting a greater amount of evidence — the legal standard in this case was to have a preponderance of evidence along with evidence of greater damages.
THE RIPOFF OF THE TAXPAYERS BY BLACK ACTIVISTS:
Originally, claimants were to have filed within 180 days of the consent decree. Late claims were accepted for an additional year afterwards, if they could show extraordinary circumstances that prevented them from filing on time.
Far beyond the anticipated 2,000 affected farmers, 22,505 “Track A” applications were heard and decided upon, of which 13,348 (59%) were approved. $995 million had been disbursed or credited to the “Track A” applicants as of January 2009[update], including $760 million disbursed as $50,000 cash awards. Fewer than 200 farmers opted for the “Track B” process.
HOW COULD THERE BE 86,000 DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS IF THERE WERE ONLY A TOTAL OF 26,785 BLACK FARMERS IN 1977?
Beyond those applications that were heard and decided upon, about 70,000 additional petitions were filed late and were not allowed to proceed. Some have argued that the notice program was defective, and others blamed the farmers’ attorneys for “the inadequate notice and overall mismanagement of the settlement agreement.” A provision in a 2008 farm bill essentially allowed a re-hearing in civil court for any claimant whose claim had been denied without a decision that had been based on its merits
In other words, the number of total claims filed by Black people claiming to be farmers not only exceeded the original estimate by almost 40 to 50 times, it is close to four times the USDA’s estimate of 26,785 total black owned farms in 1977! One reason for this is that the settlement applied to farmers and those who “attempted to farm” and did not receive assistance from the USDA. So Black people who were thinking of going into the farming business, but never did, were also eligible for the $50,000 fraud award, because they might have been discriminated against. It sounds like “Black Repartions” to me. Paying off the latest group of Pigford fraud application cases is said to be a high priority for the Obama administration.
CONNECTION TO SHIRLEY SHERROD – USDA
Remember the recent case involving a woman by the name of Shirley Sherrod, whose quick dismissal from the Obama administration may have had less to do with her comments on race before the NAACP than her long involvement in the aptly named “Picford” case. In a special article written for the Washington Examiner, Tom Blumer explained that Shirley Sherrod and the group she formed along with family members and others, New Communities. Inc. received the largest single settlement under the Pigford case.
Her organization, New Communities, is due to receive approximately $13 million ($8,247,560 for loss of land and $4,241,602 for loss of income; plus $150,000 each to Shirley and her husband Charles for pain and suffering). There may also be an unspecified amount in forgiveness of debt. This is the largest award so far in the minority farmers law suit.
What makes this even more interesting is that Charles Sherrod, Sherill’s husband, appears to be the same Charles Sherrod who was a leader in the radical group Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s. The SNCC was the political womb that nurtured the Black Power movement and the Black Panthers before it faded away.
In his article, Blumer had some interesting questions about this settlement and about Sherrod’s rapid departure from the USDA
•Was Ms. Sherrod’s USDA appointment an unspoken condition of her organization’s settlement?
•How much “debt forgiveness” is involved in USDA’s settlement with New Communities?
•Why were the Sherrods so deserving of a combined $300,000 in “pain and suffering” payments — amounts that far exceed the average payout thus far to everyone else? ($1.15 billion divided by 16,000 is about $72,000)?
•Given that New Communities wound down its operations so long ago (it appears that this occurred sometime during the late 1980s), what is really being done with that $13 million in settlement money?
Here are some other questions to consider:
•Did Shirley Sherrod resign so quickly because the circumstances of her hiring and the lawsuit settlement with her organization that preceded it might expose some unpleasant truths about her possible and possibly sanctioned conflicts of interest?
Is USDA worried about the exposure of possible waste, fraud, and abuse in its handling of Pigford?
•Did USDA also dispatch Sherrod hastily because her continued presence, even for another day, might have gotten in the way of settling Pigford matters quickly?
Here is another area for concern: In her position at the not for profit, “Rural Development Leadership Network,” a network of activists and community builder, was Sherrod involved in any way in encouraging people to submit fraudulent claims under Pigford? Did she put Black people who owned rural land in touch with lawyers who would file the paperwork claiming attempts to farm had been prevented by the non cooperation of the local USDA?
As many of you may know, there are a multitude of small parcels of non productive rural land all across the south, land unsuitable for mechanized agriculture that was once owned by subsistence farmers, black and white alike. Many of these parcels continue to be owned by family members who moved elsewhere out of sentimental reasons. The property taxes and other carrying costs are cheap and often ancestors are buried there in family plots. A drive on any country road in the South may turn up several carefully maintained postage stamp sized family cemeteries. I wonder how many of the these owners claimed they had farmed, attempted to farm, or thought about farming such acreage to score a fast $50,000 Black Farmer Fraud Award from Uncle Sam?
I guess if you are or were a poor White, Asian, Native American or Hispanic farmer, you’re just out of luck in collecting your $50,000 fraud award.
1. Timothy Pigford, et al., v. Dan Glickman, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, US District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1978 (PLF). Paul L. Friedman, U.S. District Judge.
2. “The Pigford Case: USDA Settlement of a Discrimination Suit by Black Farmers”, Tadlock Cowan, Congressional Research Service, January 13, 2009. Fetched February 9, 2009 from .
3. “The Pigford Case: USDA Settlement of a Discrimination Suit by Black Farmers”, p. 5. Tadlock Cowan, Congressional Research Service, January 13, 2009. Fetched February 9, 2009 from .