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More Delays For Black Farmers Awaiting Compensation

Black farmers across the South are facing yet more delays in their struggle to be compensated for years of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Funding for the discrimination settlement has been approved, but it may still be another year before farmers see any of the money. Now advocates for the black farmers say some are being taken advantage of by organizations promising quick payment. Disappointment is a feeling with which Mary Shepard is familiar. In the 80s and 90s she tried repeatedly to get a government loan for her small farm in Mississippi. Each time she was turned down. So when President Obama signed a settlement in December that might compensate her for that discrimination, she thought she'd be getting a check soon. "I want my money," says Shepard. "I think all black farmers deserve that money." But John Boyd says the process is probably going to take at least a year. "And I honestly don't like that," adds Boyd. He's president of the National Black Farmers Association and a leading advocate for the settlement often referred to as "Pigford II," which gives tens of thousands of black farmers a chance to file a claim for compensation from the federal government. Congress took ten years to fund the settlement, but it still needs approval from a federal judge. Until that happens, Boyd says there's nothing black farmers can do to advance their claims. He's troubled at reports from farmers who've heard they're facing a deadline and have allowed themselves to be swindled in desperation. "I've heard talks of a thousand dollar fee in some parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, and in Alabama I've heard talks of a hundred dollar fee," says Boyd. "There is no fee to fill out any claims form and there is no official claims form that has been sent out. And I'm calling for a cease and desist of those persons - whoever they may be - that are doing that." There are a number of law firms that have been authorized to assist black farmers with their claims. The official website is http://www.blackfarmercase.com/. The settlement includes money to pay legal fees for the farmers. But the compensation is too late for many black farmers who died waiting for the discrimination suit to be settled. At 68-years old, Mary Shepard has already suffered three strokes and long ago had to abandon her fields. "I would like to live to be able to use a little of my money," she says. Shepard won't know if she even qualifies for the black farmers' settlement until she gets a claims form in the mail, submits the paperwork and has a judge evaluate her case.