Lawsuits alleging discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture against black farmers and Interior Department mismanagement of resources owned by American Indian farmers will now be funded after the House passed H.R. 4783, Claims Resolution Act, on November 30.
The funding for the Pigford II settlement is estimated to be $1.15 billion that will be paid to black farmers. Funding of the Cobell settlement of alleged Indian discrimination amounts to $3.4 billion.
The Senate has already approved the funding.
"By compensating black farmers and Native Americans for past failures of judgment by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, we close the door on an old injustice," said speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi at a ceremony celebrating the legislation's passage on the Capitol steps. "We must be ever vigilant in terms of how the law is enforced. We must recognize that women farmers and Hispanic farmers and others have not been addressed appropriately yet. But we are proud to have done what we have done today in a fiscally sound way, not adding a dime to the deficit."
"On behalf of the fundamental American value of justice, I am pleased now to sign this legislation."
An original Pigford lawsuit (named for N.C. farmer Timothy Pigford) was settled in 1999 with a federal judge's approval. Funds in that settlement had already been paid and so are not included in the $1.15 billion. But when many black farmers failed to file claims in that settlement by the July 1997 cutoff, Congress authorized a cause of action for the late-filing claimants in the original case. This ensuing legal action became known as Pigford II.
Cobell v. Salazar alleged that, among other things, the Interior Department mismanaged billions in grazing land, gas, oil and other royalties owed to American Indians. The Nov. 30 funding passage also approved four water rights agreements with American Indian tribes.
To learn more, read Speaker Nancy Pelosi's full remarks on the legislation signing at the Capitol by selecting the link at http://pelosi.house.gov/media/press-releases.shtml.