Thursday, October 23, 2008

GAO says USDA ignored minorities' complaints

The Government Accountability Office says the Department of Agrigulture has failed to process hundreds of discrimination complaints from minority farmers. Lauren Etter of The Wall Street Journal writes, "The report touches on a sensitive topic that has plagued the USDA for decades: Efforts by black, minority and women farmers to receive loans and other services from the USDA in the face of alleged discriminatory behavior within the USDA."

The report goes on to say that the USDA's civil rights department has, in recent years, been in a "persistent state of chaos." The USDA keeps shoddy data on minority discrimination or none at all. "The USDA civil rights office didn't keep an accurate count of the number of discrimination complaints outstanding," adds Etter. "Also, much of the data reported by the USDA to the public about participation of minority farmers in USDA programs are unreliable, partly because the agency's data on racial identity and gender are based on visual observation." Ascertaining race through visual observation can prove inaccurate.

This is not the first time the USDA has been accused of ignoring minority farmers. "Years ago, the USDA became the target of a large class-action civil rights lawsuit alleging discriminatory behavior against African-American farmers," writes Etter. "The case, Pigford v. Glickman, was settled in 1999, after the court found that the USDA had discriminated against black farmers by denying or delaying their applications for farm loans and other benefits." The federal government has since paid out $1 billion to black farmers. (Read more)

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