Call me a skeptic if you wish. It seems that we have been down this road before. The terrain looks terribly familiar and the potholes, they look pretty much the same.
Many of us are familiar with the machinations of Pigford I and then Pigford II. Though Pigford I was class action suit back in 1999 under the direction of Judge Friedman, it contained a lot of money, a lot of lawyers, and restrictions that made things maddening for Black farmers. For instance, class counsel on the one hand waived discovery, but yet made off like a bandit in terms of money for their services. Again, the demand for Black farmers was to find a “similarly situated” white farmer with whom to compare and contrast so that racism could be proved. Whoever heard and that and who would ever agree to such a requirement? Billions of dollars were paid out to lawyers and to farmers. Most farmers I know wanted debt relief, not the promise of the $50K plus tax relief if settled under Track A or an undetermined amount if settled under Track B. What they wanted was to be relieved from the onerous burden of debt which had been demanded of them despite it being the fault of someone else. Only 371 Black farmers out of 16K actually received debt relief.
Yes, we’ve been down this road before.
Back a few years ago, we thought all was to be settled under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. I wrote about that. You can check that out here. No need to repeat the same words. The promise of 100% of debt relief plus 20% for taxes was halted in two courts across the land as a result of white farmers saying that they deserved some of that money, too. The key here is “slow walking” and big bank involvement. There is a lawsuit in federal court about these matters.
Then, President Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Again, I wrote a few words about that to President Biden, complete with political satire. You can find them here. No need to repeat them here. Bottom line? White farmers got debt relief as did Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans, but not Black farmers. That was to have been done out of the $3.1B congress appropriated. We know of eleven or so Black farmers who were relieved of their debts. Eleven out of some 2,900 who have loans with USDA? We have moved from Black to Socially Disadvantaged and now to “distressed producers.” Who would not qualify?
Now comes the final focus. Precisely $2.2B has been allocated to those who can prove that they have been discriminated against. I have attended three Zoom calls with the USDA and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Here is a brief summation.
Here are a few points of summary: 1) prove you have been discriminated against by filling out required or optional forms, or by supplying them to the hub; 2) a national entity is in charge of it all (is this even legal?); 3) work via one of two hubs in whichever region you reside (they are found in the links above); 4) feel free to get free advise from one of eight “cooperators” that are also found above; 5) this is a free process, so do not go and hire an attorney, but if you do, their fees are your responsibility; 6) the documents may be submitted via portal or copies at a local FSA office; 7) the list of documents required and/or requested is quite lengthy, so get started now; the deadline for submission is October 31; 8) this is not a first come first serve process; 9) all documents of all those who submit will be evaluated and the entity in charge will decide how much you are to receive; 10) the limit for payments is $500K; 11) per the Zoom calls, do not expect anything close to that; 12) the final word is the final word, i.e., there is no appeals process as what you receive is what you receive; 13) this is not a lawsuit process but a compensation model; 14) there are several law firms out in cyberspace wanting your business, for a fee of course, and 15) white farmers’ claims have diluted the pool of potential funding.
There are several potholes in this process. First, if you trust the USDA, do not get legal counsel, but if you do not trust USDA, you might get legal counsel, or you might consider trusting one of the “cooperator” groups, if you see one that you trust, or if you know someone affiliated with them that you trust.
The most egregious aspect of the process is that there is no appeals process. Coupled with that, an outside entity decides what your compensation will be. What is offered is the bottom line. Accept it or reject it. I have yet to hear of a complicated process like this that does not have an embedded appeals process.
I have reviewed the materials. It all looks complicated to me. It is described as a simple do it yourself model. Perhaps it will be simple for many.
The biggest grief I have with the process is that it was designed back in the day to attempt to level the playing field, one in which white farmers had all of the advantages and Black farmers received less than they deserved. How level is the playing field when Black farmers have lost land and productivity on the land from 1920 to 1997 to the tune of $326B?
So, the world is changing. The Supreme Court has ruled out affirmative action. It looks like similar processes are playing out at USDA.
And, they ask us to trust them?
I think we’ve been down this road before.