Washington Report: Updates From Capitol Hill

Washington Report: Updates from Capitol Hill

Congress May Miss Black Farmers Settlement Deadline

National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd, Jr., fears that Capitol Hill lawmakers won’t meet the March 31 deadline to appropriate funds for the settlement agreement reached last month with the Agriculture and Justice departments to compensate black farmers for past acts of discrimination. With only 10 days left on the legislative calendar before Congress breaks for Easter recess, it’s easy to understand why.

Boyd says bipartisan support for the settlement seems to have fallen by the wayside amidst partisan bickering over healthcare, jobs and other issues. Democratic lawmakers and administration officials continue to offer their support, but Boyd–and NFBA members, who understand little about the legislative process and thought it was a done deal–are more interested in action.

“They say they’re supportive, but that has to turn into results and I’m not seeing that right now,” said Boyd. “I know they’re busy on healthcare and other issues, but we need them to act. We need the president to be more vocally active on this issue, too.”

USDA spokesman Justin DeLong said in an email message that the agency is “actively working with Congress to ensure the settlement agreement is funded, and Agriculture Secretary [Tom] Vilsack has made personal phone calls and sent a letter in support of the president’s budget amendment to communicate the administration’s commitment to resolving this issue.” The timing, however, is up to Congress.

Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Congressional Black Caucus member who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said this week that while the White House included the settlement in its budget request, it didn’t indicate how to pay for it. Both he and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) suggested that President Obama give the settlement an emergency designation, as it would a natural disaster, to fast track the process.

“If that’s done, it’s done,” Thompson said matter-of-factly.