Black farmers are once again in the spotlight, but this time they're defending themselves against accusations of fraud. Just a few years after winning a landmark $1.33 billion settlement for decades of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the New York Times published a deeply critical look at those court judgements. The Times' investigation alleges widespread fraud and questions whether similar settlements should be made with Latino and women farmers, as mandated by the Obama administration's political appointees in the Justice and Agriculture Departments.
The deal, several current and former government officials said, was fashioned in White House meetings despite the vehement objections -- until now undisclosed -- of career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination. What is more, some protested, the template for the deal -- the $50,000 payouts to black farmers -- had proved a magnet for fraud.
Soon after the Times published its findings, the Network of Black Farmers issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the paper's claims. When I reached the network's Heather Gray by phone this morning, she underlined an important point. "The New York Times inappropriately targeted black farmers who are the victims [of discrimination] rather than talking about the behavior of the Agriculture Department, which has for years denied its services to its [black] U.S. citizens."
See a portion of the farmers' rebuttal after the jump.