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US Senate fails to approve minority farmer settlement

The US Senate [official website] on Thursday failed to authorize a settlement between the US government and minority farmers for alleged discrimination. The $4.6 billion settlement would be distributed between several hundred thousand minority farmers. Among that group are Native American farmers claiming that the US Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] failed to pay them royalties on natural resources for the last century. The rest of the group receiving the settlement consists of African Americans who missed the filing deadline in the 1999 class action lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman [BFAA backgrounder] that resulted in more than $1 billion being paid to farmers. The settlement, approved by the House of Representatives [official website] in July, failed in the Senate after members of the Republican party objected to a unanimous consent motion [CNN report] proposed by Democratic members. Republican members cited concerns over the federal deficit in their decision. It is the seventh time that the Senate has failed to approve the settlement, which the Obama administration is under court order to resolve [AP report].

In February, the USDA and Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced a $1.25 billion settlement [JURIST report] for African American farmers claiming they suffered racial discrimination in USDA loan programs. The settlement arises from the Pigford case, which was reopened to those who missed the filing deadline after the passage of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 [HR 6124 materials; JURIST report]. Under the terms of the new settlement, individual farmers may demonstrate their entitlement to relief through a non-judicial claims process. In 1997, black farmers alleged in the Pigford case that they were being denied USDA farm loans or forced to wait longer for loan approval than were non-minority farmers.

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