Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Civil Rights, Pigford Still Issues for Villsack at USDA

Tom Villsack, Secretary of Agriculture. (Photo by Gary Truitt, hatchat.net)

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Tom Vilsack became head of the Agriculture Department last year, he faced a backlog of 11,000 civil rights complaints and several unresolved class-action lawsuits from minority farmers and ranchers.

The largest case, known as Pigford, remains open. It originally was settled in 1999 for $1 billion after 16,000 black farmers said they had been unfairly denied farm loans. Thousands of black farmers later complained that they were unaware of the suit, and in 2008 it was reopened. Some farmers have said the Obama administration is not moving fast enough, and on Monday they protested outside the USDA headquarters.

Vilsack said in an interview Friday that he is close to a resolution and is working hard to transform the department's handling of civil rights.

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