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Black farmers rally for end to discrimination suits

MONTGOMERY — More than 500 black farmers from over the Southeast rallied here and said they want a resolution to discrimination claims.

The National Association of Black Farmers held the rally Wednesday to send a message to Congress: make a $1.15 billion settlement awarded to us in 1999 a part of the 2010 budget.

John Boyd, founder of the association, said President Obama has placed the request in the 2010 budget.

Black farmers won a historic discrimination lawsuit against the federal government in 1999, known as the Pigford settlement. Part of the agreement included compensation of black farmers for the discrimination.

But thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus sought to reopen the lawsuit, Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, leading the way.

In 2008 lawmakers added $100 million to the Farm Bill to pay those who filed late.

But, says Davis, that’s not enough.

In September Davis introduced a bill that would clear up the congressional intent regarding $100 million already appropriated for Pigford litigants and guarantees litigants access to the permanent appropriated judgment fund.

The bill also would allow reasonable attorney fees, administrative costs and expenses to be paid from the judgment fund as agreed to in 1999.

Davis also included in the bill a measure making any scheme to defraud a Pigford farmer a criminal offense with punishment of a fine or up to five years in prison or both.

On Wednesday Davis said he wanted to see a “global settlement,” instead of five or six years of a protracted process.

“It’s time to close the door on this,” the congressman said.

Davis said Congress needs to act to approve this $1.15 billion in the Farm Bill.

Wednesday was not the end of the rallies. Farmers plan to gather on President’s Day, Monday, Feb. 15, in front of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington.

It is unlikely Congress would take up the Farm Bill appropriation until summer, generally when the body considers such measures.