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Obama signs bill funding minority farmer settlements

US President Barack Obama [official website] on Wednesday signed [press release] a bill [HR 4783 materials] authorizing funds for a settlement with minority farmers over discrimination claims. The settlements include $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. Obama said, "[w]hile I am pleased that this Act reflects important progress, much work remains to be done to address other claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers against the Department of Agriculture as well as to address needs of tribal communities." The House of Representatives approved the settlement last week after it was approved by the September [JURIST reports] in November.

The settlements arose from two cases. Eloise Cobell [plaintiff website] 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. A settlement was reached [JURIST report] last December. 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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