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Senate Approves $4.5 Billion Settlement to Indian, Black Farmers

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 29, 2010 8:48 AM

After more than a decade in the courts, discrimination cases brought by Native American and Black farmers against the USDA and the Department of the Interior are nearing an end. On November 19, the Senate voted to approve two multibillion-dollar settlements to resolve claims of discrimination and mismanagement by the federal government. Further action by the House also will be needed for final approval, and will likely take place after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The settlement will give Native American plaintiffs in the land trust lawsuit access to a $3.4 billion fund. Black farmers who have joined the lawsuit against the USDA will be part of a $1.15 billion settlement, reports The Washington Post.

The issues that brought these two groups to court were similar, but not precisely the same. The Native American plaintiffs' suit concerned the mismanagement by the government of the payments due for natural resources mined from tribal lands. That case finally settled last December.

Black farmers, reports The Post, looked for relief from decades of loans refused by the USDA due to discrimination. Tens of thousands of farmers have claimed they were wrongfully denied loans by the USDA. Hopefully, the justice delayed will not be justice completely denied. "It's long, long overdue," John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, told The Post. "Many farmers have died waiting for justice. Hopefully, we can get this money to those who are living."

The Senate approval of the settlements was one small item that politicians were able to move through on bi-partisan support. "I am heartened that Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to deliver the settlement that these men and women deserve for the discrimination and mismanagement they faced in the past," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the vote.

The White House issued a statement urging the House to approve funding for the settlements, according to The Post. President Obama says he looks forward to signing the bills into law.

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