The Washington Times editorial board has demanded a congressional investigation into the allegations pushed by right-wing fabulist Andrew Breitbart of fraud in the Pigford settlement for black farmers who were victims of discrimination committed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the Times op-ed is filled with distortions intended to bolster those fraud allegations and use them to attack President Obama.
Times Suggests Discrepancy Between Number Of Claimants And Black Farmers Indicates Successful “Scam”
Wash. Times: “More Than 94,000 Claims Were Filed” Even Though There Were Only “33,000 Black Farmers In America” During The Relevant Time. From the editorial:
Race hustlers are shaking down taxpayers for payoffs, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is falling for the scam. The controversy involves a discrimination claim against the USDA for allegedly denying loans because of race. A federal judge approved payments of $50,000 or more based on low levels of proof. This encouraged a mad scramble for cash based on false claims.
The “Pigford Settlement,” an agreement that came out of the original 1997 lawsuit by Timothy Pigford and 400 southern black farmers, resulted from some apparently legitimate instances of discrimination. However, plaintiffs' lawyers got involved, and the number of supposedly aggrieved farmers grew exponentially. Eventually, more than 94,000 claims were filed even though the U.S. Census Bureau never counted more than 33,000 black farmers in America during the years in question. [Washington Times, 2/2/11]
Census Number Is A Poor Indicator Of Number Of Eligible Claimants
CRS: Census Bureau Count “Failed To Recognize” Full Number Of African Americans Engaged In Farming. From a December 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report:
Questions have been raised about the number of black farmers who were or are eligible for a settlement under Pigford or Pigford II. Determining the number of African American farm operators who farmed during the period of January 1, 1981, and December 31, 1996, is difficult because of the way in which the Census of Agriculture defined farm operator. Prior to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, only principal farm operators were counted. In the 1982 Census of Agriculture, there were 33,250 African American-operated farms; in 1987, 22,954; in 1992, 18,816; and in 1997, 18,451. Essentially, the number of African American farms was treated as synonymous with the number of African American operators.
These statistics, however, failed to recognize that many farms are operated by more than one farm operator. In 2002, the Census of Agriculture collected data for a maximum of three principal operators per farm. The 2002 Census enumerated 29,090 African American farm operators. This statistical change more accurately captured the actual number of operators, that is, those who are actually engaged in farming. For example, a single farm may be operated by four or more operators, each of whom could have conceivably made loan applications to USDA agencies. In addition, a farm operator might operate rented or leased land owned by a principal operator. In such a case, that operator renting or leasing farmland would not have been counted as the operator of that farm. Under the term of the consent decree, however, such a farmer could be an eligible claimant because he or she farmed or tried to farm during the requisite time period. The varying Census definitions of farm, farm operator, and farm owner help explain why the number of initial claimants in the Pigford case (approximately 94,000) was higher than the number of farms/farm operators enumerated by the Census of Agriculture between 1982 and 1997 and why the estimated number of potential Pigford II claimants may be greater than the number of farms/farm operators enumerated in those or subsequent Census counts. [Congressional Research Service, “The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers,” 12/10/10, emphasis added]
CRS: Census Count Also Does Not Include Eligible Claimants Who Attempted To Farm Or The Estates Of Deceased Farmers. From the CRS report:
In addition, it is important to note that there may be other reasons for discrepancies between the number of farmers reflected in farm Census data and the number of claimants under Pigford or Pigford II. For example, individuals who attempted to farm but who were denied loans or other farm assistance would not be counted as farmers but may have been or may be eligible to file a claim under the terms of the two settlement agreements. Likewise, the estate of a deceased individual who farmed or attempted to farm during the eligibility period may be entitled to relief under either settlement, but such persons would not be counted as farm operators. [Congressional Research Service, “The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers,” 12/10/10]
Settlement Is Open To Those Who “Attempted To Own Or Lease” Farm Land, Not Just Those Who Actually Farmed. From the CRS report:
Track A claimants had to present substantial evidence (i.e., a reasonable basis for finding that discrimination happened) that
- claimant owned or leased, or attempted to own or lease, farm land;
- claimant applied for a specific credit transaction at a USDA county office during the applicable period;
- 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
- the USDA's treatment of the loan application led to economic damage to the class member. [Congressional Research Service, “The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers,” 12/10/10]
Thousands of Claimants Have Been Rejected. According to the Office of the Monitor for the case, out of 22,551 total track A decisions, 6,906 final adjudications have been denied as of January 20. [Office of the Monitor, accessed 2/3/11]
Wash. Times Ignores Republican Support In Attacking Obama For Backing Pigford Legislation
Wash. Times: In 2007, Obama “Began Working To Pass Legislation” Extending Pigford To Additional Claimants. From the editorial: “In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama began working to pass legislation providing even more money for a whole new class of claimants via 'Pigford II.' This push ignored fraud in and several convictions over the original settlement, but Mr. Obama was advised his legislation could help him in a Democratic presidential primary fight against then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.” [Washington Times, 2/2/11]
Legislation Allowed Alleged Victims Of Discrimination Who Missed Court Deadline To Have Their Cases Considered. From the CRS report:
Due to concerns about the large number of applicants who did not obtain a determination on the merits of their claims under the original Pigford settlement, Congress included a provision in the 2008 farm bill that permitted any claimant who had submitted a late-filing request under Pigford and who had not previously obtained a determination on the merits of his or her claim to petition in federal court to obtain such a determination. This provision did not reopen the previous Pigford litigation, but rather provided such farmers with a new right to sue. Ultimately, 11 separate lawsuits were filed on behalf of over 25,000 black farmers, and these claims were consolidated into a single case, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (commonly referred to as Pigford II). [Congressional Research Service, “The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers,” 12/10/10]
Republicans Sponsored Bills To Extend Pigford Settlement To New Claimants
Obama Co-Sponsored Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley's Legislation To Allow Additional Claimants To Sue. From a Time magazine report:
[A]s a Senator Obama had championed the black farmers' lawsuit against the USDA.
Along with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Obama introduced legislation to reopen the case (that was initially settled in 1999) to allow more black farmers to join and to provide more funding to settle claims. The legislative language was added to the Farm Bill passed in 2008 and its inclusion led to a second Administration-negotiated settlement in February of this year for $1.15 billion. [Time, 7/23/10]
Grassley Backed Several Bills Seeking To Allow More Claimants To Join The Pigford Settlement And To Provide More Money To Settle Claims. For example:
- S.972: “A Bill To Amend The Food, Conservation, And Energy Act Of 2008 To Provide Funding For Successful Claimants Following A Determination On The Merits Of Pigford Claims Related To Racial Discrimination By The Department Of Agriculture.” [S.927, 5/5/09]
- S.515: “Pigford Claims Remedy Act Of 2007.” [S.515, 2/7/07]
- S.3976: “Pigford Claims Remedy Act Of 2006.” [S.3976, 9/28/06]
GOP House Members Also Backed Pigford Legislation.
- Republican Reps. Steve Chabot (OH) and James Sensenbrenner (IL) Co-Sponsored H.R. 3073: “Pigford Claims Remedy Act of 2007.” [H.R. 3073, 2/7/07]
- Chabot Also Sponsored H.R. 899: “Pigford Claims Remedy Act of 2007.” [H.R. 899, 2/7/07]
Wash. Times Pretends Obama “Rammed Through” Funding For Pigford II
Wash. Times: Obama “Rammed Through” A "$4.6 Billion Boondoggle." From the editorial: “As president, Mr. Obama rammed this new, $4.6 billion boondoggle through Congress during last year's post-election, lame-duck session.” [Washington Times, 2/2/11]
Funding Legislation Actually Received Broad GOP Support
Legislation Funding Pigford II Settlement Passed Senate By Unanimous Consent. From the CRS report: “Finally, on November 19, 2010, by unanimous consent, the Senate passed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (H.R. 4783) to provide the $1.15 billion appropriation. The Senate bill was then passed by the House on November 30 and signed by the President on December 8.” [Congressional Research Service, “The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers,” 12/10/10]
Grassley On Passage of 2010 Bill: “Today We Have The Opportunity To Make Right These Past Wrongs” By USDA. On the day the Senate approved the $1.15 billion measure to fund the Pigford II claims, 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.
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. [Grassley Senate floor speech, 11/19/10]
16 House Republicans Voted For Funding Legislation. [H.R. 4783, Vote #584, 11/30/10]
Wash. Times Acknowledges Their Evidence Of Pigford “Fraud” Comes From Breitbart Reports On Disgruntled Farmers
Wash. Times: “Numerous black farmers have complained they get short shrift while grifters and lawyers get the loot.” From the editorial: “For months, the liberal Huffington Post and Andrew Breitbart's libertarian BigGovernment.com have reported growing numbers of Pigford fraud allegations. Numerous black farmers have complained they get short shrift while grifters and lawyers get the loot.” [Washington Times, 2/2/11]