Last Thursday, Congress failed to provide legislation that would finalize $4.6 billion in settlements with black farmers and American Indians. John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association, says both parties share the blame for leaving the work undone. Boyd says it's just partisan division; one party against another. He says it's an embarrassment for the American people that they can't get a bill passed that everybody supports.
While lawmakers from both parties support resolving the long-standing claims of discrimination and mistreatment by federal agencies, the funding has been caught up in a fight over spending and deficits with Republicans and Democrats arguing over how to pay for them. Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., would like to send the deal back for further negotiation. Senator Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., says it's not the role of Congress to renegotiate the case.
Senate Ag Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln says in the American Indian case at least 300,000 Native Americans claim they were swindled out of royalties overseen by the Interior Department since 1887 for things like oil, gas, grazing and timber. They would share a $3.4 billion settlement. For black farmers, Lincoln says it's the second round of funding from a class-action lawsuit originally settled in 1999 over allegations of widespread discrimination by local Agriculture Department offices in awarding loans and other aid.
The government already has paid out more than $1 billion to about 16,000 farmers. The new money is intended for people, as many as 80,000, who were denied earlier payments because they missed deadlines for filing.