President Obama speaks with with Rep. George Butterfield (D-N.C.) after signing the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 to settle long-standing suits by black farmers against the federal government. (J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON — It could be at least a year before black farmers get any payments from the $1.2 billion fund set up to settle decades of discrimination claims against federal agriculture officials.
“There will be a deadline for claims, but it has not yet been set,” said Andrew Marks, a lead counsel for the farmers. “It’s highly unlikely that anyone will get any money until some time in 2012.”
Last week, President Barack Obama signed legislation setting up a fund to pay thousands of black farmers who say they were denied loans and other assistance for years by federal agriculture officials because of their race.
This marks the second round of payments for black farmers. Thousands of farmers received payments as part of a 1999 class-action settlement in what is known as the Pigford I case. The fund created by the new law would pay others who missed that filing deadline.
Before any money is paid out, the settlement must be approved by a court, an arbitration system must be set up to review claims, and notices must be sent to thousands of farmers.
“It’s got to be done right,” said Marks, a lawyer with Crowell and Moring in Washington.