Obama Signs Settlements For Black Farmers, American Indians

President Obama this afternoon signed a law funding two major legal settlements for black farmers and American Indians who were discriminated against by the federal government.

The Pigford II settlement, worth $1.25 billion, will pay claims made by black farmers that they were discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture in the 1980s and 1990s, when the department denied them loans and other assistance. The Cobell settlement, worth $3.4 billion, is for American Indians whose land trusts and oil and gas rights were mismanaged by the federal government, which withheld royalties.The Pigford settlement was approved by a judge and lawyers for both sides in February, and the Cobell settlement last December. Several attempts over the months to authorize funding for the settlements failed in Congress.

The settlements, paid for with offsets including money from a WIC surplus and from Customs fees, finally passed last month, even amid allegations of widespread fraud from some Republican congressmen. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder today promised to fight any potential fraud.

Obama has long pressed for the bill’s passage.

“This isn’t simply a matter of making amends. It’s about reaffirming our values on which this nation was founded: principles of fairness and equality and opportunity,” he said after he signed the bill.

In October, the USDA announced a $760 million settlement for American Indian farmers who’d been discriminated against, choosing to bypass Congressional approval by paying for the settlement with the Justice Fund. The USDA is also expected to settle discrimination claims from women and Hispanic farmers.