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U.S. approves settlement for black farmers
The USDA's relationship with minorities has been fraught for decades. Nearly eight years ago, black farmers took over a regional office in Brownsville, Tenn., to protest the agency's pace in processing their loan applications. Under the Bush administration, the agriculture secretary appointed a civil rights director, a practice that continues in the Obama era.
Administration officials said Thursday that the outlines of the settlement had met with bipartisan support, particularly from lawmakers from agricultural districts. But House appropriators, who would be the first to act on the measure, said they needed more time to review the settlement before offering solid predictions as to its fate.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she was encouraged by the settlement, which could provide the most help to farmers in Southern communities. "Over the past 20 years, the number of farms operated by black farmers has declined by nearly 50 percent," Lee said. "In part, this decrease was caused by a lack of access to loans and other assistance which were provided to other farmers."
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), also a member of the caucus, said: "This settlement is a case where justice delayed will no longer be justice denied. . . . History has taught us to never give up when fighting for what is right. What happened to these black farmers was wrong, and we now have the opportunity to make it right."
Staff writers Krissah Thompson and Ben Pershing contributed to this report.