Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal—
Part 4 of 7
The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.” Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming. In 1999, the black farmers won their case.
Farmers Claim Discrimination: The original lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, filed in federal court in Washington in August 1997, argued that the Agriculture Department’s credit bureau, now called the Farm Service Agency, routinely denied or limited loans to black farmers while freely distributing them to whites.
Two government reports that year found no evidence of ongoing, systemic discrimination. The Government Accountability Office reported that 16 percent of minority farmers were denied loans, compared with 10 percent of white farmers, but traced the difference to objective factors like bad credit. An Agriculture Department study also found “no consistent picture of disparity” over the previous two years.
Black farmers gave heart-rending accounts of loan officers who withheld promised money while crops withered, who repossessed their land and sold it to white cronies, who advised them to milk cows for white farmers rather than sow their own crops. John W. Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer who leads the National Black Farmers Association, was among those who pressed President Bill Clinton to settle the case. At a White House meeting in December 1997, Mr. Boyd said, he recounted how a loan officer denied him $7,500 and then handed a $150,000 check to a white farmer who had not even filled out an application.
Mr. Clinton asked Carol Willis, then a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee who was known for his expertise in black voter turnout, to get involved. Mr. Willis said the president wanted to make sure his home state, Arkansas, benefited. Mr. Willis said he recruited Othello Cross, a Pine Bluff lawyer, to join the plaintiffs’ legal team.
He initially limited the class of potential claimants to African-Americans who had farmed between 1981 and 1996 and had previously filed written discrimination complaints. But his final order significantly expanded the class, admitting those who had only “attempted to farm.” And it threw out the requirement for a written bias complaint, stating that an oral complaint was sufficient if someone other than a family member attested to it in an affidavit.
The billion-dollar settlement, the judge’s opinion said, was designed to provide “those class members with little or no documentary evidence with a virtually automatic cash payment of $50,000.” Those with documentary proof could seek higher awards, a tack ultimately chosen by fewer than 1 percent of applicants.
Justice Department lawyers worried about false claims. But the lawyer familiar with the Clinton administration’s stance said they had decided that “it was better to err on the side of giving money to people who might not qualify if they went through litigation than to deny money to people who actually deserve it.”
John C. Coffee Jr., a Columbia Law School professor and specialist in complex litigation, said that not requiring documentary evidence “was quite unusual, but there were also special circumstances.” Still, he said, “I don’t think they realized how much of an incentive they were creating for claims to multiply. It is a little bit like putting out milk for a kitten. “The next night, you get 15 kittens.”
source—john boyd, paul friedman, othello cross, carol willis,john c coffee jr,