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Black Farmers Settlement Funding Up For Vote Again

The Senate is scheduled to vote today on whether to fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture's $1.2 billion discrimination settlement with black farmers. The settlement funding has continually run into trouble in the Senate, where it's been stripped out of much larger spending bills. This time, the funding is part of a stand-alone unanimous consent bill. That worries John Boyd, the head of the National Black Farmers Association, because it only takes one senator to kill the bill. He says if it doesn't pass this time, "we'd basically be starting over with a whole new process, and I'm really not interested in doing that." Congress is scheduled to go into recess next week. The settlement agreement also faces an August 13 deadline, although that's been extended two other times. Republicans have objected to funding the settlement if it adds to the national deficit. Democratic leaders now say spending has been cut in other areas to pay for it. Boyd says he's tired of excuses. "I think it's finally packaged in a way it can move, but it's time for Republicans to get off the pot here and vote yes for black farmers," Boyd says. This would be the second settlement in a class action lawsuit filed by a North Carolina farmer. The USDA admitted to decades of discrimination against black farmers in a 1999 settlement of that case. However, some 70,000 black farmers were late in filing a claim or didn't have the right documentation to get money from the settlement, which is why the case was reopened. The legislation scheduled for a vote today also includes money for Native Americans who weren't paid royalties owed them from tribal land trust accounts.