$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.

An Aug. 2002 National Black Farmers Association protest in front of the USDAin Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

He recently traveled there four weeks in a row, meeting with senators from both sides of the aisle. But, Burkett says, the Democrats won’t vote for the funding because they are terrified in an election year. The Republicans say that they won’t vote for the funding as an attachment because they think it will encourage Democrats to attach similar requests. Regardless of either side’s actual motives, they won’t openly vote yes.

Undeterred, Burkett will visit the Senate again. The $1.25 billion is a raindrop in an ocean of federal money, and since it must be paid, there is no need for an offsetting cut. “Both sides just don’t want to vote,” he says.

Are White Farmers’ Votes More Important Than Black Farmers’ Livelihoods?

This summer the Obama White House promised Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln that farmers in her state would receive $1.5 billion, ostensibly for disaster-relief aid. Cynics, however, say the money is a payoff to the farmers along with their relatives, friends and other Arkansans to get them to vote for Lincoln in November.

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.”