Many cases still pending in Pigford Class Action Lawsuit - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Many cases still pending in Pigford Class Action Lawsuit

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February 11, 2006

Albany-- Hundreds of farmers from as far as Mississippi and South Carolina are in town for The Federation of Southern Cooperatives 23rd Annual Farmers Conference. The theme is "Equity in Agriculture" but some farmers are still waiting for a piece of that equity.

For some, farming is and has always been the only way of life. "It's hard to make a living on a farm now, with a small farm," says farmer James Mays. Leslie, Georgia farmer James Mays has been making that hard living on his small farm for over five decades.

"I started farming in 1949, 1950," says Mays.

Years of farming can make it easy for Mays to forget when he started but he certainly remembers one thing. "My case was denied," says Mays.

"After all of these years, we have so many farmers whose cases have not been resolved," says Shirley Sherrod.

The cases involved thousands of black farmers in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The lawsuit claimed race discrimination in loan practices and issuance of land. "USDA realizing the fact that discrimination had occured against black farmers through the years, then talked settling the case," says Sherrod.

The settlement meant that eligible farmers would receive compensation for loss of land and more dollars for deep dept caused from slow loan payments by USDA. But many cases were either denied or are still pending.

"About 90% of the claims have been decided. Over 14,300 people who have won and there's been payments of about 850 million dollars," says David Frantz. 

Frantz, who's law firm has been involved with the lawsuit from the start in 1997 says about 2000 cases are still pending from appeals but the outlook is half bright.

"Roughly 50 percent of those people do win on appeal," says Frantz. Frantz says another win is that some USDA offices have improved their practices with black farmers. "In other places, it's sad to say nothing has changed," says Frantz.

It's a situation that's left many changes on several small farms and although farmers like Mays dont have much left, they want the resources to continue doing what's been a way of life.

David Frantz says the pending cases should be decided within a year or so. He expects that in the end, over one billion dollars will be paid to the farmers plus other benefits.

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