USDA settles Black Farmers and American Indians lawsuit - - Jackson, MS

USDA settles Black Farmers and American Indians lawsuit

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By Ashley Conroy - email

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -- For areas of the Delta in Mississippi, farming is a way of life.

Many black farmers say they've endured more than a century of discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The National Black Farmers Association has spoken out in recent years saying black farmers received unfair treatment in regards to receiving loans from the federal government.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure on Tuesday to approve a $1.2 billion settlement to go to black farmers across much of the southeastern United States.

Former USDA Secretary and former U.S. Congressman, Mike Espy says the reality is that many had no choice, but to go out of business.

"We would rather have those farmers in business, we would rather have them producing," Espy said. "We would rather have them increasing their agriculture bounty of Mississippi."

Espy has represented some of these farmers involved in the settlement, and says the discrimination was presented when black farmers were denied loans.

"Many black farmers did not receive their approval on their loan application because of their race," Espy said.

This measure passed by Congress is the second settlement of more than a billion dollars given to black farmers across the south.

The USDA has not admitted they were wrong.

In a statement, current USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said:

"President Obama and I made a firm commitment not only to treat all farmers fairly and equally, but to right the wrongs in USDA's past. I applaud those who took this historic step to ensure black farmers who faced discrimination by their government finally receive justice."

Espy says these farmers will receive around $50 thousand each to compensate for their loss.

Though he says it won't put some of them back in business, but he says it's a step in the right direction for the government to admit they were wrong.

"It does offer a bit of a symbol of justice from the federal government which has accepted responsibility for this discrimination."

As part of the settlement, American Indians claimed the Interior Department did not provide resources such as gas and timber over many years.

Congress approved $3.4 billion for this portion of the lawsuit.

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