Bitter harvest for blacks

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Talk about a disappointing harvest.
A federal initiative that was supposed to reverse years of government bias in lending to thousands of African American farmers has come up far short.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture pledged to pay as much as $2.3 billion to tens of thousands of farmers and their families, only about one-third that amount has been distributed so far.
Even worse, this disheartening harvest has been five years growing.
A 1999 legal settlement committed Washington to redressing racial bias in federal loan programs that all but crippled the livelihoods of thousands of African American farmers.
Over decades, black farmers were denied loans routinely, or loaned less than white farmers whose credit ratings were similar. The result was a devastating attrition rate, with 40 percent of the nation's black farmers leaving the land since the early 1980s.
The legal settlement of farmers' claims called for restitution in the form of expedited cash awards starting at $50,000 for each farmer. Existing federal loans ranging up to $150,000 per farm also were to be forgiven, and other steps were planned to provide technical assistance needed to help sustain African American farmers.
Now, though, a two-year study by the Environmental Working Group -- a research group working with the National Black Farmers Association -- calls those pledges into question.
Disputed claims
The study found that roughly nine in 10 farmers seeking restitution under the discrimination settlement were refused. It also revealed that the Agriculture Department aggressively disputed claims, and denied individual farmers data needed to prove they were treated shabbily in comparison to white farmers.
So far, the Agriculture Department has paid out $814 million to 13,445 of the 94,000 farmers who applied -- just 35 percent of what was pledged.
Thousands of farmers were tripped up by a late-1999 deadline to file a claim.

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