vilsack on usda discrimination

posted May 10, 2013

vilsack
Federation of Southern Cooperatives
Land Assistance Fund

Contacts: Heather Gray 
heathergray@federation.coop / 404 765 0991
www.federation.coop  

USDA discrimination
by Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

In “Easy harvest; A well-meaning USDA program implodes on taxpayers” (Editorial, April 30), the Tribune editorial board chose to give little attention to a deeply unfortunate history of widespread discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture against minority and female farmers and ranchers. It focused on a settlement process intended to address these past claims of discrimination against African-American farmers – Pigford I – while failing to acknowledge additional safeguards put in place under the Obama administration prior to carrying out new claims processes.
This administration has made it a priority to ensure that all Americans get equitable service from USDA. We have taken steps to prevent discrimination from happening in the future, but we also recognize the importance of providing a path to justice for those who alleged that they were discriminated against in the past and can provide appropriate evidence of the alleged discrimination.
An important part of this process came through settlements with certain African-American, Native American, Hispanic and female producers. But prior to opening the Pigford II and other claims processes, USDA ensured that each would be led by a neutral, third-party adjudicator. We ensured that each of the processes require documentary evidence in order for a claimant to prevail. Finally, all potentially fraudulent claims are referred to the appropriate federal authorities for investigation – and while cases have been referred to the FBI, the FBI has convicted very few individuals.
In criticizing the Pigford I process, the Tribune ignores these new and significant efforts to safeguard taxpayer dollars.
Even as we work to correct past discrimination, we’re working to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. It’s unfortunate that folks are looking at an incomplete set of facts regarding these settlements, while discounting the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure that government is working for every American in the decades ahead.
– U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Washington

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-vp-0506voicelettersbriefs-20130506,0,2259372.story