By Deborah Barfield Berry, Gannett Washington Bureau
About 18,000 black farmers, mostly in the South, are expected to receive notice later this month they will receive payments as part of a landmark $1.2 billion discrimination settlement with the Department of Agriculture.
The lead lawyers for the farmers were expected Friday to submit a formal report from the claims administrator, including final payment figures, to U.S. District Court in Washington.
"They need to go ahead and expedite these payments so the farmers won't have to continue to wait," said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association. "Here is it, planting season has come and gone, and the farmers still don't have their money. These farmers are frustrated."
It's been more than two years since President Barack Obama signed the settlement into law. Congress approved the $1.2 billion settlement in 2010 in what has become known as "the Pigford case."
The case against federal agriculture officials found that the agency denied loans and other assistance for years to black farmers because of their race.
The settlement is the second round of payments for black farmers. Thousands received payments as part of a 1999 class-action settlement. The second round, dubbed Pigford II, will pay farmers who missed the first filing deadline.
The maximum payment is $62,500 -- $50,000 for the claim and $12,500 for taxes. The filing deadline was last May.
Of the $1.2 billion, about $91 million was approved for attorney fees.
Lawyers for the farmers have said claims were being reviewed by a court-approved mediation and arbitration firm. The lawyers were expected to submit a final report from the claims administrator Friday.
The process has taken longer than initially projected. Advocates for the farmers said they expected the process would take about a year. Farmers originally were told payments could arrive by late 2012.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who pushed for the settlement, said he remains "deeply concerned with the length of time that it has taken to resolve these discrimination claims."
He called on lawyers for the farmers, the claims administrator and federal agriculture and justice officials, to move more quickly to resolve any issues.
Boyd said he also met with Congressional Black Caucus members to relay the concerns of farmers, as well as Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and staff from Thompson's office.
"I know black farmers are frustrated with the delays in the Pigford II settlement payments. I am frustrated, too," Clyburn said. "But there were safeguards built into the legislation to ensure all of the claims are thoroughly vetted in an effort to be good stewards of public funds."
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