(Reuters) – Black farmers are worried that a landmark deal to compensate them for discrimination faced over decades could slip through their fingers as a deadline looms without funding approved by lawmakers.
Last month, the Obama administration announced a $1.25 billion settlement with black farmers left out of loan and assistance programs administered by the U.S. Agriculture Department due to racism, one of the largest civil rights settlements in U.S. history.
But the deal was contingent on Congressional approval by March 31. Lawmakers leave on Friday for a two-week break, and there is no clear sign the funds will be approved by then.
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“These farmers are old, and they don’t have all this time to wait,” said John Boyd Jr., head of the National Black Farmers Association, who urged Congress and the administration to hold up their end of the deal.
Boyd wants the administration to declare the settlement an emergency, which would waive Congress from the so-called “pay-go” requirement to trim budgets for other programs to fund the package
Midway through remarks at a news conference held to publicize the funding hitch, Representative John Conyers — chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — made a phone call to secure a last-ditch meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) to push him to issue the emergency order.