$1.5 Billion for Wealthy Arkansas Farmers; Nothing for Black Farmers

Apparently, the votes of white farmers in a key state trump the USDA's settlement of long-standing discrimination complaints -- especially in an election year.

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An Associated Press article reported that major newspaper editorials have castigated the deal, saying that the plan will bypass congressional approval and benefit wealthy farmers. A Washington Post editorial, mentioned in the AP article, declared, "If you think this looks like a back-door plan to almost double almost everyone's subsidy, we agree with you."

The Congressional Black Caucus has addressed the issue of the Arkansas farmers' potential payments. In July, the CBC wrote to President Obama requesting that he and the Congressional leadership identify how to fund settlements for black farmers. The letter stated that, "The current hardships experienced by other farmers should not trump hardships placed on African Africans" by the Department of Agriculture in the past.

Jerry Pennick, director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, says that the White House has been working behind the scenes to assist the passage of the funding in the Senate, and the president supports the legislation. This past Thursday, Ben Becker -- press secretary for the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, of which Lincoln is chair -- said that Lincoln and the administration were still working out the details regarding the disposition of the $1.5 billion.

A Step Back for Black Farmers

According to the NBFA, its members operate much smaller properties than white farmers do and are treated differently. The organization's average member farms 50 acres, while the average white Midwestern farmer has 1,000 acres. When agricultural subsidies are provided to the black farmer, he gets an average of $200; large white-owned farms receive $1 million.

The mix of these factors has created a serious detour in at least one farm family's future. Boyd farms acreage in three Southern counties, raising 100 head of beef, soybeans and wheat. His son, however, has no interest in becoming a fifth-generation farmer, the father says, "Because he watched me scuffle. He is studying computers."

Dampened optimism also prevails regarding what the Senate may do in terms of funding the settlement. Representatives and off-year senators will soon head home to campaign. Pennick of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives hopes that there will be a positive change after the election.

That can't come soon enough for Boyd. To him the situation is depressing, particularly when it comes to older farmers. "I am going to funerals left and right, and [at this rate] it won't be very long before there won't be any black farmers," he says.

Frank McCoy is a regular contributor to The Root. He covers business and technology.

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