Friday, December 3, 2010

CBC Says Black Farmers Won’t Be Able to Get Money Because of Complicated Claims Process

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are complaining that legislation funding a settlement for discrimination against black farmers sets too high a bar for claimants.

The lawmakers argue language added by the Senate, which is meant to prevent fraud in the program, sets higher standards for proving a claim than were required for other groups trying to prove loan discrimination by the Department of Agriculture.

“There's no question. The bar is much higher,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), a CBC member and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

The legislation to be sent to the president would provide $4.55 billion to settle longstanding discrimination claims with the Department of Agriculture from black and Native American farmers.

The additional steps added to the claims process include an audit by an inspector general and oversight by the attorney general's office, as well as a review by the secretary of Agriculture, who must sign off on a farmer’s claim.

Attorneys involved in cases must swear in writing that the claims are legitimate, and a special federal “adjudicator” must also take an oath that the claim is legitimate and may request additional information and documentation. At the end of the process is another round of oversight and review from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice at the top levels.

Thompson argues the additional standards are unfair, and that black farmers are being treated differently from other groups.

“Even when black people are about to receive a settlement, just because they raised the issue they are being treated differently. There should be a uniform standard for everybody,” Thompson added.

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