|A 2002 protest (NYT photo by Stephen Crowley)|
In 1999, the Clinton administration awarded $50,000 each to African American farmers who claimed they suffered such discrimination. In response, Hispanics and women also claimed discrimination, and the government opened the doors for thousands to claim money, with little or no evidence required to qualify, LaFraniere reports. As a result, the program "became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees," she writes. "In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion."
Since it is nearly impossible to verify an accusation of discrimination, the program seemingly encourages people to lie, LaFraniere writes. "Claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm. Agriculture Department reviewers found reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination."