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Monday, April 2, 2012 - 2:49am

Settlement Available To Black Farmers

More than 4,000 Georgia black farmers have until May 11 to find out if they’re eligible for federal money in a massive legal settlement.

This is the second chance farmers and their heirs have to file a claim. The courts found black farmers were discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture when they applied for loans from 1981 to 1996 after the Reagan Administration eliminated the civil rights division in the USDA.

Many farmers missed the deadline to file a claim, so a second settlement fund of nearly $1 billion will allow those farmers to file a new claim.

Mercer King, an attorney with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, represents the farmers. He said money comes too late to save a lot of family farms.

“A lot of claimants are worse off. They don’t have the land, a lot of them,” King said. “A lot of them lost their farm, and it’s land that’s been in their family since Reconstruction. I don’t think [the settlement] restores them back and makes them whole, but it’s just an acknowledgement, an apology of sorts.”

King said much of that lost land had been in black farmers’ families since reconstruction.

“A lot of slaves were sharecroppers. And you know they earned $10-$12 per month working as an agricultural hand, saving their money in order to buy land,” he said. “So it was just an enormous accomplishment to even own land as a black person in those days.”

Depending on how many farmers are in the final claimant pool, King said the average farmer could get about $50,000 in settlement money as well $12,500 in tax relief.