WASHINGTON, DC - John Boyd, a fourth generation farmer, wants it to be clear - his effort to secure Congressional funding for a discrimination settlement that black farmers reached with the Department of Agriculture is not the pursuit of "reparation."
"It's [about] discrimination," the president of the National Black Farmers Association told Fox News. "It's about justice. Black farmers have not been getting justice."
For the past week, Boyd has been driving his orange tractor, which he named "Justice," through the streets of Washington. He's been calling on the Senate to pass funding for claims stemming from the class action lawsuit, known as "the Pigford case," in which black farmers sued the USDA for denying them fair treatment when they applied for federal assistance. The case was settled in 1999, and the federal government paid out approximately $1 billion to claimants.
Approximately 80,000 black farmers missed the deadline for the 1999 settlement, however, and in February, the Obama Administration announced a $1.15 billion deal to resolve the second round of claims, with the purpose of bringing "these long-ignored claims of African-American farmers to a rightful conclusion."
The funding has passed the House but has been stalled in the Senate, where it has been attached to several bills only to be scratched out.
Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, joined Boyd at a news conference Thursday, to announce they are introducing a standalone bill with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to fund the $1.15 billion settlement.
"We're working together to send this language to the President as quickly as possible because our black farmers have waited too long," said Sen. Hagan.
The news conference was the culmination of Thursday's march, led by Boyd and his tractor, which began at the steps of the Department of Agriculture and ended at the Capitol building. Among the participants: John Bonner of Dinwiddie, Virginia, whose father passed away earlier this year but continues to have an oustanding claim.
"What my father worked so hard for, hopefully another generation can continue on, " said Bonner. "That's the only thing [the money] can do now. It won't help him."
Boyd told Fox News that, with all the evidence of discrimination that occurred at the USDA, the funding is overdue.
"We have a bill that passed into law that says black farmers shall have their cases heard based on their merits. Two years later, not a dime has been paid out. Now, when you put laws in place for large scale white farmers, the forms are immediately distributed, the subsidy payments are immediately distributed, and deposited into their checking accounts."
Meanwhile, continued Boyd, "Black farmers are out here 26 years later trying to get a settlement for $50,000, it's a shame. It's a shame. People ought to be ashamed of that."
"As Congress adjourns for October, this is one item that we hope [the Senate] can no longer afford to ignore," said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). The Congressional Black Caucus Chair was also joined by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) at the press conference.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), an outspoken critic of the Pigford case, has said the number of outstanding claims outnumber the actual number of black farmers in this country, which suggests there could be thousands of fraudulent claims. King sits on the House Agriculture Committee.
Senator Blanche Lincoln told Fox News that there are "very deserving" farmers whose claims have been outstanding for a long time, during which they lost land and resources. She said the USDA has "plenty of resources" to figure out who is in compliance.
Of the 80,000 claimants, not all of them would qualify for compensation, said Boyd, who explained all the claims would go through a screening process. Boyd also said critics are citing numbers that don't count the black farmers who left the agriculture business because they were unable to receive help from the federal government.
"The reason why you don't see a hundred thousand farmers is the USDA ran them out of business!" said Boyd. "They discriminated against them."