Black farmers are once again in the spotlight, but this time they’re defending themselves against accusations of fraud. Just a few years after winning a landmark $1.33 billion settlement for decades of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the New York Times published a deeply critical look at those court judgements. The Times’ investigation alleges widespread fraud and questions whether similar settlements should be made with Latino and women farmers, as mandated by the Obama administration’s political appointees in the Justice and Agriculture Departments.

From the Times:

The deal, several current and former government officials said, was fashioned in White House meetings despite the vehement objections — until now undisclosed — of career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination. What is more, some protested, the template for the deal — the $50,000 payouts to black farmers — had proved a magnet for fraud.

Soon after the Times published its findings, the Network of Black Farmers issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the paper’s claims. When I reached the network’s Heather Gray by phone this morning, she underlined an important point. “The New York Times inappropriately targeted black farmers who are the victims [of discrimination] rather than talking about the behavior of the Agriculture Department, which has for years denied its services to its [black] U.S. citizens.”

See a portion of the farmers’ rebuttal after the jump.

  • The story is largely anecdotal - sure there are people at USDA who are vested in the system who refuse to admit the undeniable legacy of discrimination at the department.

• The presentation of data is misleading. The number of farms operating in 1997 is essentially irrelevant. The case covers a 16 year period during which there were over 125,000 African Americans engaged in farming at one time or another.

• Minimal documentation was required because 1) USDA destroyed the denied loan applications and civil rights complaints; 2) the case went back to 1981 so many folks had lost or destroyed their own records. It went back to 1981 because USDA shut down its civil rights office in the early 80’s so minorities were denied the opportunity to present their claims at a time when they would have had records.

• Out of 503 cases referred to the FBI, they chose to investigate 60 - 3/10 of 1 percent of the 22000 claims. That is miniscule.

• The denial of credit and benefits has had a devastating impact on African American farmers. According to the Census of Agriculture, the number of African American farmers has declined from 925,000 in 1920 to approximately 18,000 in 1992. CRAT Report at 14. The farms of many African American farmers were foreclosed upon, and they were forced out of farming. Those who managed to stay in farming often were subject to humiliation and degradation at the hands of the county supervisors and were forced to stand by powerless, as white farmers received preferential treatment.

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