After decades of discrimination, litigation, and negotiating, it looks today like an agreement has been reached on compensation to black farmers. This is one of those times that government works that Paul Waldman wisely counsels us to celebrate. So, a few words of praise for the real progress made by President Obama's negotiation of the Pigford agreement.
The root of today's agreement between Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack goes back to the decades after World War II when black American farmers were denied federal loans and generally iced out by government agricultural agencies. The number and stature of black farmers plummeted. In 1999, the Pigford v. Glickman class-action-suit settlement set up payment to black farmers. The problem was some 70,000 of them missed the application window.
As a new senator, Obama sponsored legislation to reopen the compensation process. There was general agreement that the government had an obligation to make further payments, but the USDA under Bush resisted prioritizing funds for it. Then Obama got himself elected president. His agreement with Vilsack budgets $1.3 billion for a second wave of payments. If my understanding is correct, that's about half of what full payment under the terms of Pigford would cost. Still, the new budget goes a long way toward righting a historic wrong -- a demonstration of what's possible when a handful of politicians sets priorities and then diligently navigates the process to bring them into being.
-- Nancy Scola