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Settlement for Black farmers and Native Americans

BY HERB BOYD | 4/12/2011, 5:24 p.m.

Native Americans and Black farmers can only hope that the legislation passed last week by the Senate isn't like the treaties and promises of the past and will be honored and fulfilled.

The settlement calls for the government to pay Black farmers $1.2 billion in discrimination claims made against the Department of Agriculture. The Native Americans will divvy up $3.4 billion of swindled royalties by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"The Senate finally did the right thing," said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association. The decades-long suit has been deadlocked in Congress as members of both parties differed over how to pay for the settlement. The measure now awaits approval from the House.

"While these legislative achievements reflect important progress," said President Obama, praising passage of the bill, "they also serve to remind us that much work remains to be done." Meanwhile, he said, his administration is working diligently on separate lawsuits filed by Hispanic and female farmers.

In order to thaw the freeze on the settlement, stalled by Republicans in the Senate, Sen. Harry Reid sought and found ways to offset the cost.

The bill also includes a one-year extension of the Temporary Assistance of Needy Families Program, an AP release noted. Through this action, grants are provided to the poor as well as several Native American water rights settlements in Montana, New Mexico, and in Arizona, particularly satisfying the demands of Arizona's Sen. John Kyl.

Throughout the long struggle for such a settlement, Black farmers have been adamant about losing their farms three times faster than other agricultural workers. Boyd said that it takes nearly 400 days to process a Black farmer's loan request at the Agriculture Department, compared with less than 30 days for white farmers. Moreover, the government subsidies for white farmers far outweigh those received by Black farmers.

"Congress has money for everything... to bail out banks, Wall Street, AIG, everybody," Boyd charged weeks ago. "But we can't seem to get this done. There is something terribly wrong with that picture."

To dramatize the situation and harkening to the past, Boyd once showed in front of the courthouse leading a mule. Black Americans never got the forty acres and a mule, but the settlement will help to assuage much of the pain of past, though, as Obama stated, there is still much work to be done.