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Reopened black farmers settlement could cost USDA

Ben Evans

Ronnie Clark, 50, was among the first to sue. He said he tried to grow corn and peanuts in the 1980s but gave up after being denied loans from the government. He said he did not know about the original settlement until the deadline had passed and that the government should pay valid claims whether they were late or not.

“I went and tried to get a loan and they talked to me so hateful that I just quit,” said Clark, who now works on a transportation maintenance crew for the state. “I just quit trying to borrow.”

Lawyers involved in the case say it remains unclear how the courts will organize the flood of cases or where the money will come from once claims exceed $100 million.

As in the original settlement, claimants can seek expedited damages of $50,000 under a lower threshold of proof than a typical civil case — essentially by showing they applied for and were denied USDA farm assistance.

Claimants also can bypass the expedited process and pursue larger damages, but most are expected to seek the $50,000 payment.

If just half are successful, it would cost $1.8 billion; a two-thirds success rate would cost about $2.5 billion.

Davis argued that the cost is not likely to climb that high because the new legislation requires all claims to go through the courts. That is a far more difficult task than the streamlined administrative process set up for claims under the original settlement.

Given the uncertainty of the final cost, he and other supporters defended the bill as a starting point to be revisited later.

“There’s no doubt that there will have to be more money in the future,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and lead sponsor of the measure. But, he said, “African American farmers deserve justice.”

(Associated Press)