Five months after President Obama announced a $1.25 billion settlement for black farmers who faced overt discrimination by the USDA in the eighties and nineties — and several days after the Sherrod case brought the issue up again — Congress again refused to authorize the money.
On Thursday, the Senate quietly stripped the funding for the Pigford II settlement and several other programs from a supplemental war funding bill. Senators then unanimously passed their version of the bill, which will go back to the House.Conservative opposition to the settlement came to light last week in the aftermath of the Shirley Sherrod scandal. A farm collective founded by Sherrod and her husband that was forced out of business by the discriminatory practices received a $13 million settlement as part of Pigford last year, just before she was hired by the USDA. Some, including Rep. Steve King (R-IA), have called the settlement a fraud.
Majority Leader Harry Reid blamed Republicans for the failure to pass Pigford.
“I hoped that tonight the Senate could finally right a wrong that has been left unresolved for far too long. But Republicans stood in the way,” he said in a statement. “As recent events have reminded us, the fact that justice and fairness were denied to black farmers for so many years continues to have ramifications today. … Republicans should be held accountable for standing in the way of justice for those affected.”
But several Democrats — including Sens. Evan Bayh (IN) and Tom Carper (DE) — also voted to block the bill.