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Senate approves minority farmer settlements

The US Senate [official website] on Friday authorized by voice vote settlements between the US government and minority farmers for alleged discrimination. The settlements include [AP report] $3.4 billion to resolve claims that the Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] mismanaged funds [DOI materials] held in trust for American Indian landowners [JURIST news archive], and $1.2 billion for African American farmers claiming they suffered racial discrimination in US Department of Agriculture (USDA) [official website] loan programs. The House of Representatives [official website] has twice approved the settlements, but the Senate previously failed to do so [JURIST report] in August after members of the Republican party objected to a unanimous consent motion proposed by Democratic members. The legislation will now return to the House before proceeding to President Barack Obama, who stated his intent to sign the bill into law [press release].

Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] extended the deadline [JURIST report] for Congress to approve the Indian Trust settlement to January 7, 2011, marking the seventh time [case materials] an extension had been granted since the settlement was reached [JURIST report] in December 2009. The settlements arose from two cases. Elouise Cobell originally filed litigation in 1996 related to DOI's alleged mismanagement of the Indian Trust, which was established by Congress in 1887 to hold proceeds from government-arranged leases to Indian lands. Although it was determined that the US government had not engaged in fraud, it was held that DOI unreasonably delayed accounting of the trust. In 1999, black farmers alleged in Pigford v. Glickman [BFAA backgrounder] that they were being denied USDA farm loans or forced to wait longer for loan approval than were non-minority farmers. The USDA and Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced a $1.2 billion settlement [JURIST report] in February.

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