A letter from today’s paper…
Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2013
Minority Farmers Harvesting Justice
In response to James Bovard’s March 21 op-ed “Rotten Tomatoes for a Billion-Dollar Farm Payout“:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is not simply handing out taxpayer dollars to minorities with backyard gardens. This payout from the department was put in place to overcome a long history of discrimination toward minority farmers. Mr. Bovard misrepresents the black farmer cases and the USDA Framework for the claims process in the women and Hispanic farmer cases.
Mr. Bovard claims that in the settlement awarded to blacks who claimed to be victims of USDA discrimination between 1981 and 1996 (Pigford v. Vilsack), which set the precedent for the current USDA actions, black farmers merely had to assert that they had considered farming to be eligible for a large payout.
This is wrong—those black farmers had to provide detailed information about their attempt to farm, including identification of white farmers “similarly situated” to them who received loans from the USDA. This information was then subject to scrutiny and response by the USDA and multiple rounds of in-depth evaluation and review by a neutral adjudicator. In the end, 30% of all claims were denied.
Furthermore, Mr. Bovard fails to accurately represent census data. He cites 33,000 black-operated farms in the census during the period listed in the Pigford lawsuit and compares it with 90,000 eligible claims. Unfortunately, both numbers are incorrect.
First, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has admitted that it undercounted minority farmers in the agricultural censuses and has revised its historical counts.
Second, a census is only a snapshot of the population at a particular period, but the Pigford cases allowed claims by all eligible black farmers over a 16-year period—those still farming and those who had abandoned their hopes of farming because of USDA discrimination.
The USDA is trying to correct a past wrongdoing. Minority farmers who suffered from the ravages of discrimination deserve support, not mockery.
Phillip L. Fraas
David J. Frantz
(The authors are lead counsel for black farmers in Pigford v. Vilsack.)