Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) kept up his pressure on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Thursday, suggesting that the department sought to weaken legislation designed to provide relief for disenfranchised black farmers.
In a letter dated Thursday to President Bush, Obama again criticized USDA employees who had allegedly lobbied against a provision in the House’s farm bill that would reopen discrimination claims by black farmers who had missed the filing deadline.
The letter also criticized USDA general counsel Marc Kesselman for undermining the legislation. In a story published by The Hill on Tuesday, Kesselman said that a $100 million cap on the relief placed in the House bill due to pay-go rules would not cover all valid claims filed by black farmers.
Whether a funding limitation is advisable, “we cannot sit by aware of injustice and do nothing,” said the letter. “That may be the USDA approach, but it is not an approach that Congress can continue to tolerate.”
The provision the letter refers to concerns the Pigford settlement, a class action lawsuit won by black farmers against USDA in 1999 for discrimination damages. More than 14,000 won claims, but an estimated 74,000 filed unsuccessful late claims and are still seeking funds.
Those joining Obama on the letter included Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).
The letter also requests an update by Oct. 15 on USDA’s internal investigation into the alleged lobbying.
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