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Franklin County farmer anticipates long-awaited funds

Black farmers could soon see a cash payment for to settle a decade-old lawsuit alleging years of discrimination by the federal Department of Agriculture.

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WASHINGTON — Black farmers could soon see a cash payment for years of discrimination by the federal government.

The Obama administration announced a $1.25 billion deal Thursday that would pay individual farmers $50,000 plus taxes to settle a class-action lawsuit the government originally settled in 1999.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said should pave the way for congressional approval to close a "sordid chapter" in USDA history in which blacks often lost land or went deeply into debt after being denied loans and other aid that routinely went to their white counterparts.

Mallie Hodge, 80, of Franklin County is one of those who lost everything. In the 1980s, Hodge had 126 acres where he raised corn, tobacco, wheat and other crops.

Years of delays and denials of USDA loans meant Hodge could not afford to invest in materials or equipment.

“Business went under,” he said. “(I) kept going further and further back … waiting for that check to come.”

John Boyd, the president of the National Black Farmers Association, left his farm in Mecklenburg County, Va., to advance the cause of farmers like Hodge.

The original lawsuit is known as Pigford, named after Timothy Pigford, a black farmer from North Carolina who was among the original plaintiffs. Under the 1999 settlement, the government paid out more than $1 billion to about 16,000 farmers, mostly from the South.

Boyd and others have pushed for another round of damages, because thousands of people said they didn't know about the settlement and missed deadlines for filing.

“These farmers are old, and they need the money now,” Boyd said after the most recent settlement was announced. “I want to get the money to as many black farmers as we can as swiftly as we can.”

Congress must approve the plan by March 31, then Hodge and others have six months to file their claim.

Until he cashes the check, Hodge’s long wait will not be over.

“See I'm 80 now, and I might not live to see 81,” he said.

“I don't know if it will ever come or not. I'm hoping and praying it does, but I kind of doubt it.”

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Beau Minnick, Reporter
Jodi Leese Glusco, Web Editor

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