Conservative Media Scream “Reparations” in USDA Discrimination Case

Conservative media have attacked Congress for approving $1.15 billion to settle discrimination claims by African-Americans against the Department of Agriculture (often referred to as Pigford II claims), asserting the settlement is a form of “reparations.” In fact, claimants in the case must provide considerable evidence that they were victims of discrimination by the USDA before they receive any money.

Right Wing Attacks USDA Settlement As “Reparations”

Limbaugh: “The Left Is Celebrating The Fact That It Found A Creative Way To Pass Reparations.” On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh stated:

LIMBAUGH: Now, something doesn't add up. ... The something not right here leads all the way to the Obama oval orifice. If this did not involve African-Americans, this could become the number one political story of next year, because this is corruption right out in front of everybody's eyes. The left is celebrating the fact that it found a creative way to pass reparations. I mean, that's what this is. [Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/1/2010]

Hoft: Case Is About “Reparations.” In a post on his Gateway Pundit blog, Jim Hoft wrote:

The Pelosi democrats passed Pigford II today. More than 92,000 “black farmers” have signed up for reparations from the Obama USDA after the Pigford case was extended this past year. That's five times the number of blacks who were actually farming during the time period in question. [Gateway Pundit, 11/30/2010]

The post's headline included the term “Pigford Reparations Bill.”

Verum Serum: “Pigford 2 Sounds A Lot Like Stealth Reparations.” A post on the Verum Serum blog highlighting Rep. Michele Bachmann's criticism of the number of people who have filed claims against the USDA stated, “I'm open to hearing more, but based on these numbers, Pigford 2 sounds a lot like stealth reparations.” [, 12/1/2010]

The Case Actually Dealt With Well-Documented Discrimination By USDA

USDA-Commissioned Study Found Disparities Between Treatment Of Black And White Farmers By USDA In 1990s. From a report by the Congressional Research Service:

In 1994, the USDA commissioned D.J. Miller & Associates, a consulting firm, to analyze the treatment of minorities and women in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs and mayments. The study examined conditions from 1990 to 1995 and looked primarily at crop payments and disaster payment programs and Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) loans. The final report found that from 1990 to 1995, minority participation in FSA programs was very low and minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.

According to the commissioned study, few appeals were made by minority complainants because of the slowness of the process, the lack of confidence in the decision makers, the lack of knowledge about the rules, and the significant bureaucracy involved in the process. Other findings showed that (a) the largest USDA loans (top 1%) went to corporations (65%) and white male farmers (25%); (b) loans to black males averaged $4,000 (or 25%) less than those given to white males; and (c) 97% of disaster payments went to white farmers, while less than 1% went to black farmers. The study reported the reasons for discrepancies in treatment between black and white farmers could not be easily determined due to “gross discrepancies” in USDA data collection and handling. [Congressional Research Service, 6/15/10]

U.S. District Judge: “The Government Broke” Its “Promise To African American Farmers.” In his 1999 Pigford decision, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman wrote:

For decades, despite its promise that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of an applicant or recipient receiving Federal financial assistance from the Department of Agriculture” ... the Department of Agriculture and the county commissioners discriminated against African American farmers when they denied, delayed or otherwise frustrated the applications of those farmers for farm loans and other credit and benefit programs. Further compounding the problem, in 1983 the Department of Agriculture disbanded its Office of Civil Rights and stopped responding to claims of discrimination. These events were the culmination of a string of broken promises that had been made to African American farmers for well over a century.


Forty acres and a mule. The government broke that promise to African American farmers. Over one hundred years later, the USDA broke its promise to Mr. James Beverly. It promised him a loan to build farrowing houses so that he could breed hogs. Because he was African American, he never received that loan. He lost his farm because of the loan that never was. Nothing can completely undo the discrimination of the past or restore lost land or lost opportunities to Mr. Beverly or to all of the other African American farmers whose representatives came before this Court. Historical discrimination cannot be undone.

But the Consent Decree represents a significant first step. A first step that has been a long time coming, but a first step of immeasurable value. [U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision in Pigford et al. v. Glickman, 4/14/1999]

Pigford II Settlement Provides Damages To People Who Missed First Filing Deadline. As the CRS report noted, Pigford II claimants are the “large percentage of farmers who did not have their cases heard on the merits because they filed late.” [Congressional Research Service, 6/15/10]

Congress Approved $1.15 Billion Settlement For Pigford II Cases In November. In 2008, Congress passed a law allowing black farmers who did not receive a hearing on the merits in the Pigford case to re-file their claims. The settlement was approved by Congress in November. As The New York Times reported: “The bill provides $1.15 billion to African Americans left out of a 1999 settlement of a lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman; in that settlement the federal government agreed to compensate black farmers and would-be farmers who said Agriculture Department officials denied or cheated them out of federal aid.” [The New York Times, 11/30/10]

Black Farmers Must Submit Considerable Evidence To Win Settlement

Black Farmers Must Present “Substantial” Or A “Preponderance” Of Evidence To Win Claims. In his judgment, Friedman approved a consent decree to settle Pigford, which stated that a person must present either “substantial evidence” or a “preponderance of the evidence” that they were the victim of racial discrimination, depending on the type of claim. If claimants are submitting “substantial evidence” of discrimination, they also must meet the following requirements to receive damages:

A claimant asserting discrimination in a credit transaction can satisfy this burden by presenting evidence of four specific things: (1) that he owned or leased, or attempted to own or lease, farm land; (2) that he applied for a specific credit transaction at a USDA county office between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996; (3) that the loan was denied, provided late, approved for a lesser amount than requested, encumbered by restrictive conditions, or USDA failed to provide appropriate loan service, and such treatment was less favorable than that accorded specifically identified, similarly situated white farmers; and (4) that USDA's treatment of the loan application led to economic damage to the class member. See Consent Decree at P 9(a)(i). A claimant asserting discrimination only in a non-credit benefit program can satisfy his burden by presenting evidence (1) that he applied for a specific non-credit benefit program at a USDA county office between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996, and (2) that his application was denied or approved for a lesser amount then requested and that such treatment was less favorable than that accorded to specifically identified, similarly situated white farmers. See id. at P 9(b)(i). [U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision in Pigford v. Glickman, 4/14/1999]

Claimants who could point to a “preponderance of the evidence that he was the victim of racial discrimination and that he suffered damages from that discrimination” would have to go through a "one day mini-trial," after which a judge would rule on the merits of their case.

There Are Systems In Place To Prevent Fraud

Bill Requires Neutral Adjudicator To Determine Claims' Validity. In February, the plaintiffs and the government announced that they had settled the new cases and would set up a system to adjudicate individual claims. The bill passed by Congress requires that the settlement agreement include a neutral adjudicator who is hired by the plaintiffs and he or she must be approved by both the government officials and the court to determine claims. From the bill:

ADDITIONAL SETTLEMENT TERMS.-- For the purposes of this section and funding for the Settlement Agreement, the following are additional terms:

(1) DEFINITIONS.-- In this subsection:

(A) SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT.-- The term “Settlement Agreement” means the settlement, including any modifications agreed to by the parties and approved by the court, between the Secretary of Agriculture and certain plaintiffs, by and through their counsel in litigation titled Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, Misc. No. 08-mc-0511 (PLF).


(i) IN GENERAL.-- The term “Neutral Adjudicator” means a Track A Neutral or a Track B Neutral as those terms are defined in the Settlement Agreement, who have been hired by Lead Class Counsel as that term is defined in the Settlement Agreement.

(ii) REQUIREMENT.-- The Track A and B Neutrals called for in the Settlement Agreement shall be approved by the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Attorney General, and the court.

(2) OATH.-- Every Neutral Adjudicator shall take an oath administered by the court prior to hearing claims. [H.R. 4783 as passed by both the House and the Senate, 11/30/2010]

Bill Allows Neutral Adjudicator To Ask For Additional Documentation And Evidence Of Claims “If The Adjudicator Suspects Fraud.” The Bill states:

(3) ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTATION OR EVIDENCE.-- Any Neutral Adjudicator may, during the course of hearing claims, require claimants to provide additional documentation and evidence if, in the Neutral Adjudicator's judgment, the additional documentation and evidence would be necessary or helpful in deciding the merits of the claim, or if the adjudicator suspects fraud regarding the claim. [H.R. 4783 as passed by both the House and the Senate, 11/30/2010]

Bill Requires GAO And USDA Inspector General Reports On Claims. From the bill as passed by the Senate:

(h) Reports.--


(A) IN GENERAL.--The Comptroller General of the United States shall evaluate the internal controls (including internal controls concerning fraud and abuse) created to carry out the terms of the Settlement Agreement, and report to the Congress at least 2 times throughout the duration of the claims adjudication process on the results of this evaluation.

(B) ACCESS TO INFORMATION.--Solely for purposes of conducting the evaluation under subparagraph (A), the Comptroller General shall have access, upon request, to the claims administrator, the claims adjudicators, and related officials, appointed in connection with the aforementioned settlement, and to any information and records generated, used, or received by them, including names and addresses.


(A) PERFORMANCE AUDIT.--The Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall, within 180 days of the initial adjudication of claims, and subsequently as appropriate, perform a performance audit based on a statistical sampling of adjudicated claims. [H.R. 4783 as passed by both the House and the Senate, 11/30/2010]

GOP Sen. Grassley: Bill “Will Help Deter Fraud And Better Protect Taxpayer Dollars.” In a floor statement supporting the bill, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said:

GRASSLEY: We've made changes to the settlement agreement that will enhance the Department's ability to fight fraud. We require the adjudicators to be a truly neutral party. We allow that neutral adjudicator to ask the claimant for additional documentation if he or she suspects any fraud. We require the claimants' attorneys to certify that there is evidentiary support for the claims. And we require the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the Department's internal controls and audit the process in adjudicating the claims.

I also thank John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, NBFA, for his help in getting us where we are today. Without his dedication to this issue, I don't think we would be passing this legislation today. My hope is that the Department will work with groups like NBFA to conduct outreach to the black community and claimants. No one wants to see fraud in the administration of these claims and stakeholder groups such as John's can be a valuable resource to getting that message out.

All these steps will help deter fraud and better protect taxpayer dollars. [U.S. Government Printing Office, 11/19/2010]

Attempts To Rectify Discrimination Have Had Bipartisan Support

Hoft Claimed “Democrats Want To Add Another $1.2 Billion To The Money Pot” For Black Farmers. In a post on his blog in which he liberally used the word “reparations” to refer to Pigford II, Hoft further claimed:

Pigford v. Glickman was a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), alleging racial discrimination in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1983 and 1997. The lawsuit ended with a settlement in which the U.S. government agreed to pay African American farmers $50,000 each if they had attempted to get USDA help but failed. To date, almost $1 billion has been paid or credited to the farmers under the settlement's consent decree. Democrats want to add another $1.2 billion to the money pot and continue with the reparations. [Gateway Pundit, 11/22/2010]

Gingrich-Era Congress Passed First Law That Allowed Pigford Lawsuit. In 1998, Congress passed the first law allowing black farmers to sue the USDA for discrimination. At the time, Congress was controlled solely by the Republicans, with former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as House speaker.

2008 Law Allowing Further Claims Had Bipartisan Support. The 2008 law that allowed black farmers, who did not have their cases heard on the merits the first time, to file new cases had bipartisan support. One Senate version of the 2008 legislation that eventually became law as part of the 2008 farm bill was sponsored by Grassley. One House version was co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Steve Chabot (OH) and James Sensenbrenner (IL). [The Library of Congress, 2/7/07; 7/18/07]

Grassley On Passage of Bill: “Today We Have The Opportunity To Make Right These Past Wrongs” By USDA. In 2009, Grassley introduced a bill allowing access to unlimited funds to pay for successful claims by black farmers covered by the 2008 bill. On the day the Senate passed the bill with unanimous consent, Grassley said on the Senate floor: “Today we have the opportunity to make right these past wrongs by the Department and give each individual claimant the right to tell their side of the story.” Grassley added: “We know USDA has admitted that the discrimination occurred, and now we are obligated to do our best in getting those that deserve it, some relief. It is time to make these claimants right and move forward into a new era of civil rights at the Department of Agriculture.” [U.S. Government Printing Office, 11/19/2010]

Conservative Media Have Repeatedly Accused Obama Of Wanting “Reparations”

Limbaugh: Health Reform Is “Reparations.” On February 22, Limbaugh claimed of a provision in the health care legislation:

LIMBAUGH: It means the rich are going to stop getting all the good stuff. We're going to take from this. This is income redistribution. This is returning the nation's wealth to its, quote-unquote, “rightful owners.” This is a civil rights bill. This is reparations -- whatever you want to call it. [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/22/2010]

Beck: “The Health Care Bill Is Reparations. It's The Beginning of Reparations.” On July 22, 2009, Beck stated:

BECK: This guy [Obama] is not who he says he is. None of his bills, none of his proposals are about what he says they're about. The health care bill is reparations. It's the beginning of reparations. He's going to give -- if you want to go into medical school, the medical schools will get more federal dollars if they have proven that they are putting minorities ahead. [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, 7/22/2009]

Radio Host Quinn Suggested Lilly Ledbetter Act Paved The Way For Reparations. Radio host Jim Quinn stated:

QUINN: [Obama] signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act without, by the way, any scrutiny by the public. That kills the statute of limitations on wage discrimination lawsuits, which means that people like Lilly Ledbetter can sue their employer of 20 or 30 years ago for so-called wage discrimination long after the person is either gone from the company or dead in this case. But let me tell you where else this leads, and nobody is pointing this out. What is the ultimate wage discrimination? Now, remember, the statute of limitations is gone. You can go back as far as you want. What's the ultimate wage discrimination? If you said slavery, go to the head of the class. Getting it now? [Clear Channel's The War Room with Quinn & Rose, 2/10/2009]

Limbaugh Claimed Obama Wants “Forced Reparations.” On his radio show, Limbaugh stated:

LIMBAUGH: As the economy performs worse than expected, the deficit for the 2010 budget year beginning in October will worsen by 87 billion to 1.3 trillion. The deterioration represents lower tax revenues and higher costs for bank failures, unemployment benefits, and food stamps. But in the oval office of the White House, none of this is a problem.

This is the objective. The objective is unemployment. The objective is more food stamp benefits. The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state. The objective is to take the nation's wealth and return it to the nation's, quote, “rightful owners.” Think reparations. Think forced reparations here if you want to understand what actually is going on. [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/11/2009]

Beck: Obama's Agenda Is Driven By “Reparations” And Desire To “Settle Old Racial Scores.” On his Fox News show, Beck said: “Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill, are transforming America, and they are all driven by President Obama's thinking on one idea: reparations.” Beck went on to state: “These massive programs are Obama-brand reparations -- or in presidential speak -- leveling out the playing field.” Beck also said Obama's goal is “creating a new America, a new model, a model that will settle old racial scores through new social justice.” [Fox News' Glenn Beck, 7/23/2009]

WSJ's Taranto Falsely Suggested Obama “Endorse[d]” Cash Payments As Reparations For Slavery. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto wrote in an online column that remarks Obama made at the UNITY '08 Convention “seem[ed] to be something of an endorsement of the idea of 'reparations for slavery,' which is usually taken to mean cash payments.” [, 7/30/2010]