SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE'S CIVIL RIGHTS PROGRAM FOR FARM PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
OVERSIGHT, NUTRITION, AND FORESTRY
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 25, 2002
Serial No. 10723
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
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COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
LARRY COMBEST, Texas, Chairman
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
GIL GUTKNECHT, Minnesota
BOB RILEY, Alabama
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ERNIE FLETHCER, Kentucky
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Mississippi
TIMOTHY V. JOHNSON, Illinois
TOM OSBORNE, Nebraska
MIKE PENCE, Indiana
DENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
SAM GRAVES, Missouri
ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida
MARK R. KENNEDY, Minnesota
GEORGE W. GEKAS, Pennsylvania
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
KEN LUCAS, Kentucky
MIKE THOMPSON, California
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
JOE BACA, California
RICK LARSEN, Washington
MIKE ROSS, Arkansas
ANÍBAL ACEVEDO-VILÁ, Puerto Rico
RON KIND, Wisconsin
RONNIE SHOWS, Mississippi
WILLIAM E. O'CONNER, JR., Staff Director
LANCE KOTSCHWAR, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
KEITH WILLIAMS, Communications Director
Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia, Chairman
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Illinois
DENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina,
Ranking Minority Member
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
ANÍBAL ACEVEDO-VILÁ, Puerto Rico
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
RONNIE SHOWS, Mississippi
BRENT W. GATTIS, Subcommittee Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
Baca, Hon. Joe, a Representative in Congress from the State of California, opening statement
Bishop, Hon. Sanford D., Jr., a Representative in Congress from the State of Georgia, opening statement
Clayton, Hon. Eva M., a Representative in Congress from the State of North Carolina, opening statement
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia, opening statement
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Stenholm, Hon. Charles W., a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas, opening statement
Thompson, Hon. Bennie G., a Representative in Congress from the State of Mississippi, opening statement
Burrell, Tom, founding member, Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, Covington, TN
Dyckman, Lawrence J., director, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. General Accounting Office
Gallegos, Lou, Assistant Secretary, Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Answers to submitted questions
Bryson, Nancy, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Shipman, Hunt, Deputy Under Secretary, Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Garcia, Lupe L., farmer, Las Cruces, NM
Grant, Gary R., founding member, Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, Tillery, NC
Lucas, Lawrence C., president, Coalition of Minority Employees, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrepared statement
Pennick, Edward, on behalf of Ben Burkett, farmer, Petal, MS
Wise, Dorothy J. Monroe, farmer, Whitakers, NC
Zippert, John, program director, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Land Assistance Fund, Epes, AL
Alvarez, Jesus, submitted statement
Kling, Lou Anne, declaration of, submitted by Mr. Baca
Hall, Tex G., president, National Congress of the American Indian, submitted statement
Hicks, Edgar, the Nicodemous Flour Co-op, submitted statement
Hilliard, Joe, farmer, Sante, NC [on file with the committee]
Moses, Larry Ben, farmer, Jackson, NC
Norman, Barbara James, president, Southern Michigan Farmers' Cooperative
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE'S CIVIL RIGHTS PROGRAM FOR FARM PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2002
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry,
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCommittee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:15 a.m., in room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bob Goodlatte (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Cooksey, Simpson, Rehberg, Clayton, Berry, Baldacci, and Stenholm [ex officio].
Also present: Representatives Hilliard, Bishop, Thompson of Mississippi, and Baca.
Also present: Mr. Conyers
Staff present: William E. O'Conner, Jr., staff director; Lance Kotschwar, chief counsel; Brent Gattis, subcommittee staff director; Dave Ebersole, Callista Gingrich, clerk; Ryan O'Neal, Kellie Rogers, Vernie Hubert, Quinton Robinson, John Riley, and Anne Simmons.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Good morning. The committee will stand in recess until after a series of votes that are coming up shortly.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The hearing will come to order.
Prior to the recess the question was raised about whether a noncommittee Member would be allowed to participate in the hearing. It has been the policy of Chairman Combest and this committee to not allow Members of the House who are not on the Agriculture Committee to participate in hearings. Several Members from outside the Agriculture Committee have been denied participation in our hearings. They have come from both parties. There have been numerous noncommittee Members of the House who have requested to participate in today's hearing, and I have, without exception, told all of them that they will not be allowed to sit at the dais or participate in this hearing.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Conyers, has taken a great interest in this issue. He is one of those who requested that the hearing be held, even though he is not a member of the committee. And as a result of that, I am going to extend to him the offer to testify before the committee, and given the lateness of that offer, we will give him the opportunity to testify at the beginning of the hearing or at another point in the hearing process if he is so disposed to do. And we will extend that offer to him, make sure that he and his staff are aware of that, and we will also offer him the courtesy of sitting behind the dais.
It has been the policy of the committee to allow full committee members to sit on subcommittees on which they do not serve, and I note the presence and welcome the presence of the gentleman from California, Mr. Baca. And we will at this point ask unanimous consent that members of the full Agriculture Committee who wish to do so be allowed to participate in the committee. Without objection, it is so ordered.
I will recognize the gentlewoman.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate you inquiring and making an accommodation to make sure our colleague and a sitting Member of this House has the opportunity to testify on an issue that he has long-standing involvement in, and my testimony will show that the reason we do have this hearing in the first instance is that the leadership of the House, both Chairman Combest and Ranking Member Stenholm, really offered to have a hearing in exchange for Representative John Conyers and myself withdrawing an amendment that had issues relative to the investigation of some of the issues we have here. We accepted that in good faith.
So I think you are right to note the involvement, the uniqueness of Representative John Conyers and having his testimony. I also think that membership has some privilege. I can't imagineand I can see and I have testified and I also have been prohibited from asking questions on other committees, but I don't ever remember, if space was permitted, that I didn't have the courtesy to join other Members. I have done that in the Commerce Committee. I haven't testified in Commerce, but I have sat there. I have also been invited to, after I made the request, to go to Appropriations Committee. I had an issue, which I had no authority on that committee. I made the request, they knew I had an interest, they allowed me to at least put my testimony in and asked at the time if I had comments. I had none, but they extended me that courtesy.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Membership has some privilege. And I would think, Mr. Chairman, I know you are trying and I want to acknowledge your effort in this, because we are at least here having this hearing. But I want to return to my raise my objection to Mr. Conyers being relegated to sit behind the dais. I think we do ourselves a dishonor putting any Member, whether Republican or anybody else, if space is available. If there is an issue about questioning, that I can understand. But there is something symbolic about that that doesn't jibe with equality and the privilege that membership has.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, I thank the gentlewoman for her comments. And let me just say that I have great respect for her and for the gentleman from Michigan. There is certainly space available. However, there is also the issue of how many Members wanted to participate in this hearing, and to change dramatically the functioning of the subcommittee by allowing a great number of people to do so is a problem for the committee. And I think that is a part of the policy that has been enunciated by the chairman of the full committee.
The gentleman from Georgia.
Mr. BISHOP. I thank the chairman for recognizing me. I want to associate myself with the remarks of the gentlelady from North Carolina. I perhaps am not quite as diplomatic as she is. I think to relegate the gentleman from Michigan, one of the most senior Members of this House who basically is a pioneer in this issue, the issue with which we are dealing today, the fact that an agreement was made to have this hearing in exchange for his withdrawal of an amendment that he had the privilege of offering as a Member of the House on the floor, to relegate him to the back of this bus on an issue of discrimination is unconscionable. And I certainly register my very, very strong objection, particularly when there are so many seats obviously in the front of the bus.
I don't care how many Members wish to participate. They should have that right as Members of the House. And having an interest in the policy which we are dealing with, which is a long-standing policy which has resulted in this Government having to pay out millions and millions and millions of dollars as a result of no one having raised this issue before Mr. Conyers did in this body that has oversight of these issues and USDA. And I am very offended as a member of this committee, I am offended that one of my colleagues, a senior Member who has exerted leadership in this issue and perhaps outranks all of us in this room in terms of his seniority in this House is not extended the courtesy of being able to sit at the dais which, all of us have had the opportunity to do in other committees. I am offended. I take it as an affront to my colleague. And I believe that, particularly since it is evident that there is plenty of space here, there is no logical reason why Mr. Conyersand he indicated he has no desire to question witnesses. But it is just a symbolic slap in the face to relegate him to sit in the back behind the staff.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Would the gentleman yield? Is the gentleman making a unanimous consent request Mr. Conyers be allowed to sit at the dais and not ask questions?
Mr. BISHOP. Yes, I would.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I don't know of any objection to that request. I would welcomein fact, as I have said, and I see that the gentleman is here nowlet me reiterate my comments earlier and say to the gentleman from Georgia, I have great respect for the gentleman from Michigan and great respect for the work he has done on this issue. That is why I have extended the offer to allow him to testify and to allow him, given the fact of the lateness of the offer, to testify at any time during the process, between any of the other panels or at the beginning if that is more convenient for the gentleman, or a last panel if he would like that.
But we are not certainly putting him at the back of the bus. And if there is no objection, we would invite him to sit at the dais, but I do need to adhere to the chairman of the full committee's policy regarding participation in the hearing.
Mr. BISHOP. Okay. Well, I would like the record to reflect that that may be the chairman's policy but that is not the policy of this House.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The policy of the House gives to the chairman of each committee the discretion to make those decisions.
Mr. BISHOP. Reclaiming my time, let the record reflect that the chairmen of most committees extend the courtesy, especially to senior Members, to sit at the dais and to participate as members of the committee on issues which occur generally infrequently for those Members to come to a committee if we are not a member.
Mr. GOODLATTE. If the gentleman would yield further, I would acknowledge that those policies do exist in a number of committees and I have had experiences similar to those described by the gentlewoman from North Carolina. I have also had the experience of being denied the opportunity to sit on the dais in other committees.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I respect the gentleman's views but I think this is the policy of the committee. And we would welcome the gentleman participating in the fashion that he has described and the fashion that I have described, at his discretion.
Mr. BISHOP. I will yield.
Mr. BALDACCI. Mr. Chairman, we are all allowed to have how much time in order to ask questions or make a presentation?
Mr. GOODLATTE. You are allowed 5 minutes.
Mr. BALDACCI. We are allowed 5 minutes. Well, I would like to be able to yield my time to Representative Conyers if he so chooses to use that time, if it is a pleasure to the committee, and I get unanimous consent for that; because I frankly recognize Representative Conyers on this particular issue, and having been on the floor at that time, wanted to make sure that he at least had an opportunity if a question arose to be able to ask that question and not delay the committee from the time necessary in order to do its work.
And I appreciate the committee's recognition and the chairman's recognition to have the Member sitting with us as we are going through this process. But I do think that I don't want to negate his opportunity to ask a question, and I would yield my time to Representative Conyers if that is OK with the chairman of the committee.
Mr. BISHOP. Reclaiming my time I, too, would yield my time to the gentleman from Michigan.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Both gentlemen would have to do so at the time they were recognized and under a unanimous consent request at that time.
Mr. BALDACCI. Would the chairman agree to that?
Mr. GOODLATTE. I agree to what the gentleman from Georgia has put forward and to offering the gentleman, as we have extended the courtesy to numerous Members of the House on numerous occasions, to allow him to testify before the committee. As to the circumstances under which a unanimous consent request might be made in the future, I am going to reserve judgment on that. Plus I cannot speak for other members of the committee.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BISHOP. And to allowing him to be seated at the dais.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Yes, absolutely, we will allow him to be seated at the dais.
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. Would the gentleman yield? Mr. Chairman, I think in the spirit of openness, the fact that we are having a civil rights review of an agency and to deny certain civil rights to a Member is really an affront on what we are trying to do. I think the public perception of limiting participation by a Member of Congress clouds this whole hearing.
I want to join my colleagues in asking you to look favorably on that unanimous consent request to allow Congressman Conyers not only the ability to sit with the committee but to ask questions. It is a democracy. One of the things that we dealt with at this agency is the perception that it has not treated American citizens in a fair and just manner. And here we are, right in the middle of the beginning of a hearing, doing the same thing to a Member that we are trying to get an agency to not do to American citizens.
So it is an absolute insult to do that. And again, I just want to put to you
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman for his comment.
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. I am not through. I was just waiting for you to finish. I want to put to you my support for the other colleagues who have registered their concern over this issue, that it is a civil rights hearing, and you can't give the public confidence in a civil rights hearing by denying certain civil rights to Members of Congress, especially one who is the ranking member on Judiciary, who in principleis the reason we are here today for having this hearing.
So I think whatever happens today is absolutely clouded by the lack of participation by the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, again, I thank the gentleman for his comments. I do not agree in any way, shape, or form that anybody's civil rights are being denied here today. We are operating under the rules of the House, the rules of the committee. I have acknowledged the procedure that some have chosen to want to pursue, and if the gentleman chooses to sit up on the dais then, under unanimous consent, somebody can yield time. Whether there will be an objection or not, I cannot foretell. But that is the process to be followed, and to rule on it in advance would be incorrect. I can't rule on it. It is a matter that requires unanimous consent.
Mr. BISHOP. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I would like the record toreclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I would like the record to reflect that the rules of the House do not prevent a Member from sitting at the dais nor participating.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The gentleman isthe committee, under the rules of the House, the committee and its chairman have the authority to make that decision.
Mr. BISHOP. I yield to the gentleman, Mr. Baca.
Mr. BACA. Thank you very much, Mr. Bishop. As Eva Clayton indicated, it is part of the agreement that we originally had when the bill came up that we would not submit an amendment if we were allowed to have this hearing. And today we are having this particular hearing. It is very important, civil rights. I appreciate the chairman's acknowledgment of letting the gentleman speak. The fact is that we are not allowing him to ask the questions only because individuals are yielding. I think it is important that he also be allowed to ask the questions, and the individuals also be allowed not to yield their time but to ask the questions. Because in this important matter of civil rights, it is important that every individualI think when we come here we are looking for representation, we are looking for individuals to ask the questions. Members are elected to represent us, and sometimes it is very difficult for all of us to sit on particular committees that are very important to us, but because of the process that is here right now, we are not allowed to sit in those committees and then we are not allowed to ask the questions, even though we asked other Members to carry on those duties for us.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Hopefully in the future we would look at the chairman, or even now, to look at changing the rules to allow Members who are elected by the people to represent them to speak even on committees that they are not assigned to. I would love to be in other committees, and we should allow that to happen to an individual. This is an important issue that deals with civil rights, human rights, and individuals should be allowed to ask the questions. Members who are here right now should also be allowed to ask those questions without having to yield the time to someone else. But I will comply with the wishes of the body once the vote is cast.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman. Dr. Cooksey.
Mr. COOKSEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I understand, Mr. Chairman, that it is the policy of the chairman of the Agriculture Committee that Members of Congress that are not members of the committee will not, as a rule, have this privilege to sit there.
However, Congressman Conyers is a friend of mine and a friend of the Congress and a friend of everybody in the United States. And I think we would save a lot of time if we had him up here, but I would like to have him come sit with me on the Republican side. There is a seat right here. And we will have a good time. Would you come sit with me? I sit on the Democrat side sometimes. But I would like to you come up, and I think it would be a show of bipartisan support for what you are trying to achieve, and we can have the hearing and mainly get on with the hearing.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, the invitation has been extended. We would welcome the gentleman from Michigan to sit on the dais with us. We will rule on unanimous consent requests as they come.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
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Mr. GOODLATTE. I have an opening statement. The purpose of this hearing is to receive testimony and written statements reviewing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Civil Rights Program for Farm Program participants. There is no doubt that certain instances in USDA's past violated the civil rights of American citizens. It is my hope that today's witnesses will report the improvement we have been seeking since this committee first held hearings on this issue over 5 years ago.
I have called this hearing at the request of the ranking member, Mrs. Clayton. I am deeply troubled by public allegations of continued discrimination concerning producers. It is my intent for this hearing to create a record detailing continued allegations against the USDA and how the Department is addressing these allegations as well as improving participant service.
It is unbelievable that we still find it necessary to talk about discrimination of any form in this day and age. I want to make it absolutely clear: Racism in any Government department, agency, or program is abhorrent, unacceptable, and should not go unpunished. Individuals that enjoy the privilege of Federal employment should not deny American citizens their right to participate in Federal programs.
When this committee, acting with the Speaker and other House committees, enacted legislation 4 years ago to set the stage for the consent decree in Pigford v. Glickman, my colleagues and I thought we were setting things right for black farmers and their families. Sadly, we will hear a different story from witnesses this morning.
It is equally disturbing that we find the need to use our oversight authority to learn why producers are still complaining about the treatment they receive at the hands of the Department. And we still regularly hear about discriminatory treatment or delay in resolving complaints. As stewards of the taxpayer's money, however, we must assure that each allegation is legitimate and that a fair resolution of these claims satisfies all parties, including the taxpayer. As we strive to abolish discriminatory behavior, it is important that any fraud be rooted out as well.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have assembled a broad spectrum of panelists that will inform us of the difficulties that they have personally experienced with the USDA. I look forward to hearing about USDA's outreach efforts and the work that will be done to ensure that all farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to participate in USDA farm programs.
And I now would like to recognize the ranking member of the subcommittee, Mrs. Clayton of North Carolina.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. EVA M. CLAYTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I thank you for agreeing to hold this committee hearing on the plight of black farmers, Hispanic, and other minority farmers in regard to discrimination at the Department of Agriculture. I would say parenthetically it shows you how we can be held up on very small things. This hearing was agreed to almost 1 year ago, but Chairman Combest and Ranking Member Stenholm during the House consideration of the farm bill, the offer to arrange for the hearing was made by the full committee leadership in consideration for the withdrawal of an amendment offered by Representative John Conyers and myself regarding discrimination of services and programs by the Department of Agriculture. This hearing is in fulfillment of that agreement made earlier.
I am appreciative to the chairman and the ranking member of the full committee for agreeing to hold this important hearing, although the lateness of this hearing on the congressional calendar limits its effectiveness. Hopefully, however, it will lay the foundation for further action and legislative remedy.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Claims of evidence of discrimination within and by the Department of Agriculture have been made and documented for almost 25 years. When I came to Congress 10 years ago, there were black farmers in North Carolina who had administrative complaints pending against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 15 years. Reports, studies, and hearings, document discrimination against black farmers, American Indians, Hispanics and women, and other minorities. And since then, there have been a series of court actions.
One of the earlier congressional hearings on this issue was held in 1990 not by the House Agriculture Committee, but by the House Government Operations Committee chaired by Representative John Conyers. The title was then, ''The Minority Farmer Disappearing Resource: Has the Farmers Home Administration been the Primary Catalyst?'' In September 2002, we could almost ask the same identical question.
Consider the following: In 1965 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights examined this issue and found internal discrimination within USDA, and in 1970 USDA's employee focus group found that the Department was callous in its institutional attitude and demeanor regarding civil rights.
The question is: Has this attitude changed since 1970? Most recently, the black farmers protested in Tennessee and in Washington, DC over the continuous saga of this discrimination, disrespect, and benign neglect demonstrated by officials at USDA and at the local level.
Mr. Chairman, some progress has been made over the last 10 years, but so much more is required if the small minority farmers are to be allowed the opportunity to grow food and own their land, a very simple request.
This progress began with the minority farmers themselves when they organized to bring attention to their situation and began to consider their legal options in remedy and to act upon them. The Congressional Black Caucus conducted the first national, informal, televised congressional hearing on the plight of black farmers and urged then-Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, to declare a moratorium on full closure, sparing further loss of land. The black farmers made their case to President Clinton. But most significantly, Congress acted to lift the statute of limitations on the discrimination claims and lawsuits at the urging of CBC members and the leadership of the White House during the budget negotiations of 1998. This was the first time that the statute of limitation has been lifted.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC However, the black farmers class action lawsuit has nothas not eliminated discriminatory practices at the Department of Agriculture. My office receives calls on a weekly basis, and I suspect other Members as well, from varying minority farmers who continue to be mistreated and frustrated by the process we have.
The recent past farm bill takes several steps to root out the continuous change of discrimination in the Department of Agriculture. Congress deserves some credit for working together to address historic inequities faced by minority and disadvantaged farmers.
The new farm bill authorized the creation of an Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Agriculture. Hopefully, no longer will we have those same stories continuing. However, the success of that is implementation.
Also, the farm bill also requires to keep track of program participation rates for minority farmers to access USDA programs at the local level. In addition, the section 2501 Outreach Program to Disadvantaged Farmers was reauthorized and its funding level increased from $10 million to $25 million. Again, the implementation is based on the appropriation of that.
Over the years, minority farmers indeed have suffered because they have not had the information or the level of participation.
Mr. Chairman, a Department established to assist small farmers, feed, and provide a service to the Nation established by President Abraham Lincoln is now considered to be the Last Plantation of slavery. How ironic that should be. There needs to be a culture change within the Department of Agriculture that respects all farmers and is committed to treating all farmers fairly and equitably. I am convinced there are many good and honorable employees of the USDAat least I want to think thatwho really want to provide competent and fair service to all of their customers without regard to race or gender.
Mr. Chairman, I request unanimous consent to make sure that the detailed record of this be offered. I have more detail. But I also want to urge you that Secretary
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection, so ordered.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I want to also make the statement that Secretary Ann Veneman has met with the black farmers and met with Members of Congress, and she has also stated she won't address those issues. I happen to like Ann Veneman, I think she is an honorable person. I liked the last Secretary of Agriculture. Secretaries come and go, Presidents come and go, Congress Members come and go. But we need to establish a principle within the Department that says we will treat all people fairly. We need to establish a principle within the Department of Agriculture that employees are held accountable for their breaking the law and discriminating against others.
We are pleased indeed that we have an array of witnesses who represent minority farmers, representing various States, various organizations. And I also want to recognize the Rural Coalition and the Southern Federation of Cooperatives for their outstanding work. Many of those individuals, Mr. Chairman, wanted to be witnesses and they didn't have the opportunity. I hope that their testimony can be a part of the record.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection, testimony submitted will be made a part of the record.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you. I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentlewoman.
I too am anxious to get to hear the witnesses and certainly any opening statements will made a part of the record. However, if any Member feels compelled to give an opening statement, I will recognize them at this time. The gentleman from Georgia.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. SANFORD D. BISHOP, JR., A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF GEORGIA
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Mr. BISHOP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, honored guests. I appreciate the accommodation and I appreciate the committee having this hearing at last.
Today we are here to discuss the progress of the civil rights initiatives implemented in the 2002 farm bill. Progress of these measures and the seriousness of USDA in following through with the promises that were made to all of the minority farmers who have been the victim of discrimination by USDA has been called into question.
The Pigford case was settled on January 5, 1999 when the claimants and USDA entered into a 5-year consent decreethe settlement, which under the direction of the court-appointed monitor, is responsible for awarding over $1 billion in damages to over 12,000 African-American farmers who have been damaged by discriminatory practices.
While the civil rights measures in the 2002 farm bill may have represented a moral victory for the black farmerand indeed the Pickford settlement was a victory, the largest class action ever awarded by USDA and a resounding admission of years of abuse against a group of peoplethe end result has still been one of disappointment. Out of the 69,162 claims filed, over 55,000 were rejected because they were filed late. This is unconscionable.
Under the less stringent track A in the settlement, in which the plaintiff would receive a blanket payment of $50,000, over 20,000 farmers are still eligible. Our goal is to see if the claims that were rejected receive full consideration. But these farmers, in some cases having lost their land as a result of this discrimination, deserve better than being told that they were too late.
I believe that the civil rights measures that have been drawn into the 2002 farm bill mean more to the future of black farmers in America ifand only ifthey are implemented properly.
As the time since the passage of the farm bill grows longer, more questions regarding the willingness of USDA officials to implement these measures arise. The main questions that come to mind are how serious is USDA about implementing true civil rights at that Agency when there seems to be no time line in establishing the Office of Civil Rights and indeed, even a short list of possible candidates to fill the new position of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights. And, too, I would like to know what has actually changed at USDA as a result of all of these efforts.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Pickford case represents the wheels of justice turning too slowly. I sincerely hope that the foot-dragging in the area of civil rights at USDA does not represent a shredding of the civil rights initiatives that we all worked so hard for in passing the farm bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for allowing me to make that statement.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman.
The gentleman from California.
Mr. BACA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask unanimous consent to speak out of order for 5 minutes.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOE BACA, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Mr. BACA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, I would like to acknowledge Chairman Tex G. Hall who is from the Mandan Nation of North Dakota, president of the National Congress of American Indians. He is a plaintiff in the Keep Eagle litigation on behalf of the American Indian and farmers. He is in the audience. I would like to acknowledge him.
With that, I would like to personally thank Chairman Combest and our Mr. Stenholm and yourself for having this hearing. I think it is an important historical hearing, a hearing that should have been done many, many years ago to deal with civil rights as it pertains to our farmers.
Only a few would dispute that USDA had a bad history of civil rights violation. For decades, minority farmers filed civil rights complaints, only to wait and hope. Both the hope and the land of those farmers are now gone. All that exists is bitterness, cynicism, and anger.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I share the anger with Latino farmers in this country. Latino farmers cannot even get an FSA document in Spanish at FSA offices located in counties where Spanish is the primary language, and my State where the primary language is spoken. Latino farmers find themselves being laughed at by county employees that are unaccountable, as evidenced by their continued employment even though they have had countless discrimination complaints filed against them.
Latino farmers find that their application is denied or delayed because brown skin in the eyes of some of the county committee members is equivalent to being a bad farmer. Worse yet is the Department's refusal to view these problems except from a standpoint of self-defense. They seem intent on not allowing Pigford to ever happen again.
Furthermore, the Department seemed obsessed with disavowing any guilt from Pigford, and it continues to view the settlement as a political, not as a civil-right decision.
If the Department continues to view every information request with scrutiny, fearing how the information would be used against them in the court, we can honestly say that things are worse and not better. We need to change the focus from litigation protection to real change. If your only tool is a hammer and soon every problem is being looked at like a nail, the findings today will be clear.
The Department of Agriculture must open itself to public scrutiny and put all past misdeeds behind it. We must end this fear of litigation that has created secrecy. This secrecy in turn has created lack of accountability to such a point that the agency employees work with pre-civil-right-era mentality of vulnerabilities. The USDA must accept that it lost the fight and must now live with an Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, which I think is good for us.
I could not believe the reports in the press that a USDA spokesperson claims that the Office of Civil Rights will not be under control of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights. The Office of Civil Rights needs to establish, if you look at the timetables out here, a clear time line for the process of discrimination complaints from the beginning to the end.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If you look at the flow chart there is a statutory requirement to process States' complaints in 180 days. But at stage 1, which is the beginning, and stage 3, there is no statutory or administrative requirement which causes the delays in filing the complaints and, of course, foreclosure ultimately.
The current process time of a complaint is a little under 700 days. About 500 of these days are spent lounging around in stage 1 and stage 3, with no requirements for time line. This is unacceptable, and either the USDA must change the rules or Congress will.
According to the FSA, all adverse action is stopped against a farmer or a person filing an OCR complaint. This policy also applies to litigants that have pending or OCR complaints. Yet if you are a litigant who has filed a complaint, adverse action is not stopped. What further proof of a complaint of discrimination do you need?
To put this simply, if you are a farmer with an OCR complaint and you don't sue, they will not stop the foreclosure; but if you sue in ignorance or skepticism of the OCR process, they will take your farm. This is discriminatory and it is a tactic designed to discourage lawsuits. This must be corrected immediately and stays of foreclosure and adverse action must be given to all pending litigants.
Also, OCR needs to better coordinate with FSA. I know of half a dozen Latino farmers being threatened with foreclosure even though they have pending OCR complaints.
I could spend all day citing countless improvements that are needed. We must stop the subjective application of Federal laws regarding FSA laws. While private industry has managed to create computerized formulas to automatically make multimillion-dollar lending decisions, FSA has not fully standardized the lending decision-making for its multimillion-dollar lending operation. The subjectivity in the decisionmaking is at the root of these discrimination complaints, which is very subjective in giving out the loans. Whether I like you or don't like you or what you look like becomes very subjective. And it is a matter of do I think you can pay or don't I think you can pay versus the individual. So it becomes subjective.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is too easy for a loan officer to selectively apply laws and creditworthiness on one farmer but not on the next. It is all too easy for a loan officer to selectively apply requirements such as character and industry or honestly endeavor to carry out the applicant's/borrower's undertakings and obligations.
Latino farmers have grown nearly 60 percent in the last two decades. While Latino farmers have grown by leaps and bounds, FSA nonemergency lending has shrunk to a rock bottom of 20 Latino loans in the last year. Statistically, this is very hard to explain and I am very sympathetic to the plight of minority farmers that are here with us today.
I look forward to the hearing and today's testimony in the hope that in the future we will allow more diversity in the witness panels so native Americans, Asians, and other current litigants should be afforded an opportunity to speak on behalf of the farmers who have this complaint. I believe that going back to this processas you can see, it becomes very difficult to when you don't have a process that is in place or a timetable. It is like taking the whole line grants. It is a way of the old system when persons do not follow the laws of the legislation, to foreclosing on them when an individual was not able to comply. And that is another tactic of taking over the lands. I think we should apply loans and allow them and not foreclose.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman for his comments.
Are there other opening statements? The gentleman from Mississippi.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BENNIE G. THOMPSON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. Just as a point of direction, from my perspective I am happy that we are having the hearing. I look forward to the presentations. But I am also mindful of the perception in my district, as Congresswoman Clayton talked about, that USDA is in fact perceived as a Last Plantation. It is our hope that the information we get from the panelists today will hopefully change the perception.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If not, then there is absolute significant work that this committee and this Congress will have to do to change it.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The gentleman's observations are well taken.
The gentleman from Alabama, Mr. Hilliard.
Mr. HILLIARD. Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing from the people. In fact, I will submit my statement for the record, and I would like to go straight to hearing the testimony from the people.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman. The gentleman from Texas
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. CHARLES W. STENHOLM, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS
Mr. STENHOLM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me just briefly thank you for holding this hearing and beginning to meet the commitment that you, Mrs. Clayton and the chairman, made on the House floor to Mr. Conyers and others. It shouldn't have to be said, but let me say it again: women, Hispanics, native and African-American farmers and ranchers assert numerous concerns regarding unfair treatment that they have encountered when conducting business at USDA.
I am confident that most USDA employees are implementing their programs in a fair and consistent manner and would not violate the civil rights of customers that they are charged with serving. However, we cannot deny that there is a problem at USDA. Currently, they are faced with at least four class action lawsuits, and U.S. taxpayers have been exposed to the payment of millions of dollars in settlements. The USDA employees that have brought about these claims should have been by now removed, if not, they should be removed.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We cannot allow instances of discrimination. And I expect USDA to address and resolve such claims in an expeditious manner. It is our oversight duty and certainly of this committee to ensure that every farm program is administered without regard to a farmer's race, sex or religion.
Again I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing and reaching the accommodations today that I believe, based on what I have heard, will allow those questions to come up and begin the resolution of this problem. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman. In deference to the comments made by the gentleman from California, Mr. Baca, to ensure anybody who wishes to have testimony submitted for the record as requested by the gentlewoman from North Carolina in her unanimous consent request be allowed to do so. We did invite one native American to testify. He indicated that he would testify, later he could not testify. And I know there are others who do want to have their testimony a part of the record, and we welcome that and want that to be part of the record.
Now we are pleased to invite the first panel to the table, Mr. Larry Dyckman, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. General Accounting Office, Mr. Lou Gallegos, Assistant Secretary for Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, accompanied by Ms. Nancy Bryson, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Mr. Hunt Shipman, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
And Mr. Shipman, I understand that there has been a death in your family and you may need to leave prior to conclusion. Please accept our condolences and whenever you need to slip out, please feel free to do so. I would like to tell all the witnesses that they are very welcome and that their written statements will be made part of the record, and Mr. Gallegos we will receive your testimony at this point.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF LOU GALLEGOS, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, ADMINISTRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. GALLEGOS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was going to say good morning, but I am not sure whether it is the morning or the afternoon.
Mr. Chairman, Representative Clayton and members of the committee, and Mr. Conyers, thank you for inviting us to testify before you today on civil rights at the Department of Agriculture. I am offering this testimony on behalf of Secretary Ann M. Veneman, as well as my colleagues here with me today, Nancy S. Bryson, our general counsel, and Mr. Hunt Shipman, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.
Secretary Veneman and I are firmly committed to ensuring that USDA is working in compliance with civil rights and equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, marital or familial status or any other factor.
As the Secretary herself has said, as public servants, we cannot be effective without being fair. We cannot be responsive without being respectful. We cannot deliver programs and services without being sensitive to the human issues that are so much a part of our work.
When I arrived at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary Veneman made it clear that there is nothing more important to her than continuing to advance the Department's civil rights record, and I don't mean in the context that has been described to this point, but moving forward to improving the record for the better. This administration is, of course, aware of the long history of problems and challenges the Department has faced in the area of civil rights.
We have committed ourselves to make constant progress in addressing the circumstances that give rise to complaints, concerns and criticisms on the one hand, and in processing those complaints that we receive in a timely and efficient manner. We are not here to tell you that all of the problems are fixed. We are here to tell you that we have taken them seriously, that we are doing everything we can to fix them. We genuinely appreciate the role of Congress, oversight agencies such as the General Accounting Office, and the Equal Opportunity Commission, as well as yes, USDA customers and employees in pointing out in a very direct way how we can improve.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have opened up, I believe, a productive dialog with constituent groups, and we are eager to hear their thoughts and their suggestions. Mr. Chairman, let me now provide you with an update on the implementation of the consent decree in the Pigford class concerning African-American farmers. As you know, the previous administration settled the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit by African-American farmers concerning the Department's farm loan and benefit programs. At the time of the consent decree, class counsel for the farmers anticipated that 3,000 to 5,000 claimants would file claims under the decree.
However, more than 21,000 individuals have filed under the consent decree and an additional 69,000 filed late claim affidavits. Therefore, it is not surprising that a smaller percentage of claimants prevailed than was once anticipated or that the whole thing has taken longer than expected. As a process, Pigford is largely behind us. The consent decree in operation for 3 1/2 years now is approaching completion. Activity is slowly winding down. More than 21,500 claims have been processed. About 99 percent have been adjudicated by the independent adjudicator appointed by the court. Almost 13,000 farmers have prevailed in the more expedited track A process succeeding in about 60 percent of the claims. Over 98 percent of prevailing claims have qualified for a $50,000 liquidated damages payment. And well over 99 percent of those who were awarded the 50,000 have already received their money totaling almost $630 million. In addition, over $17 million in open debt has been discharged.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to bring clarity to some of the issues that have arisen surrounding the consent decree. Some have said that farmers entitled to payment have not been paid. Plaintiffs and the Government agreed in 1999 to a streamlined process for filing claims that would then be adjudicated by a court appointed adjudicator. No one was guaranteed any money. Evidence to support the claim was needed, but a lower evidentiary standard was to be applied.
Plaintiffs and the Government also agreed that those claimants who believed that they have solid evidence to prove a larger amount of relief were free to choose track B, which has a higher evidentiary standard, but entitles them to a 1-day arbitration hearing before an independent arbitrator who may award any proven relief.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC No official of USDA makes any determination as to who is entitled to relief under the consent decree. Under the consent decree, the entire process is coordinated by an outside court-appointed facilitator, specifically the Poorman-Douglas Corporation. All determinations as to whether claimants prevail under track A of the decree are made by the independent adjudicator, JAMS-Endispute Corporation. The USDA continues to freeze all loan accelerations and foreclosures against African-American farmers until they have gone completely to the consent decree process, including any monitor appeals.
USDA has gone beyond what the consent decree requires in this regard, and that we implement this policy long before the consent decree was signed and we have applied the policy to all African-American farmers, not just to those for whom we are aware filed claims. Secretary Veneman recently reaffirmed that USDA will continue this policy in effect. Mr. Chairman, as you know, USDA has discussed many consent decree issues with farmers and farmer groups in several forums. We have listened to these concerns and discussed them fully. As a result of this dialog, USDA has taken some of the actions I have discussed earlier, and we are continuing to look for more ways to improve the process.
We will continue to seek such fruitful discussions on these issues. On September 12, the Farm Service Agency formalized a plan to improve service delivery for all its customers with a particular focus on minority, small and disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and producers. The aggressive actions included in this plan provide for additional focus for our efforts to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all producers.
Most importantly, Mr. Chairman, the plan incorporates many of the suggestions voiced by African-American and other minority farmers during this past summer. Some of the more important provisions in the FSA plan are already in place. For example, on September 10, the Farm Service Agency began operating a toll free telephone help line. That number is (866) 5382610. And they are ready to answer technical inquiries about FSA's loan programs. The new help line is a part of the new office of minority and socially disadvantaged farmers assistance, which reports directly to the Farm Service Agency administrator. This new office will operate under the Farm Service Agency and will work with minority and socially disadvantaged farmers who have concerns and questions about loan applications that they may have filed in our local centers outside of Washington, DC.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It will also address technical issues and answer questions concerning other FSA programs. This is being done to ensure that every effort is made to protect the civil rights of any individual, and that discrimination against anyone because of race, color, national origin, sex or any other covered basis has not occurred.
FSA has also established a senior level review team in Washington, DC that will review all borrower files for farmers in the Pigford class to determine that all servicing rights are properly considered before the account can be accelerated or foreclosed. Among the other actions, FSA will work with loan and benefit recipients to the maximum extent possible to restructure delinquent debt, to minimize the potential for administrative offsets as currently required by Federal law and will request the Treasury Department's consideration of authority to waive administrative offsets under certain hardship conditions.
FSA will also redouble its efforts to ensure that their service center employees are trained in civil rights and customer service. Training will also be provided and understanding culturally and diversity differences.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Gallegos, are you close to concluding your remarks?
Mr. GALLEGOS. I can conclude at any time.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Given the fact that the Department is under close scrutiny, we have given you well beyond the 5 minutes. If you could summarize, we would like to get to Mr. Dyckman's testimony before we go to a vote.
Mr. COOKSEY. Mr. Chairman, could I ask a question of him with regard to his testimony at some point?
Mr. GOODLATTE. If time allows. But I would like to get the witness's testimony accomplished first.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, I will conclude this way, there is no room at USDA for any bigot or any bigotry. We are committed to parity now wherever it is, however it is. Second, I want to assure the committee that we are ready, willing and able to implement the new Assistant Secretary for civil rights position. The plan is ready. The recommendations are made. We can go forward at any time and we intend to. Thank you so much for your kind attention.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Mr. Gallegos appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank you for your testimony as well and we will make sure that all of your testimony is part of the record. And I am sure you will get other opportunities to expand on it.
Mr. COOKSEY. Mr. Chairman, could I get a clarification?
Mr. GOODLATTE. If there is no objection, we will allow you to ask one quick question.
Mr. COOKSEY. I am trying to get a get a clarification of your testimony. How many black farmers are there in the United States? Is it about 17,000? Is it high or low?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, according to the 1997 census on agriculture, that census report had a total of 18,451.
Mr. COOKSEY. That is fine. Now how many people filed on these class action suits? That was in your testimony, wasn't it?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Yes, sir.
Mr. COOKSEY. You said it was 21,000.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Over 21,000 claims have been filed.
Mr. COOKSEY. Now how many late filers were there? I understand there were 69,000 late filers. The question I am asking, if there are 18,451 black farmers and then 21,000 people filed, and an additional 69,000 people filed, that is 90,000 people that filed and there are only 18,000 black farmers. Those numbers don't add up. Something is wrong. And I think that in your testimony, someone should clarify or answer that question, because I am very sensitive to this project, but I don't want anybody coming here and making a sham out of numbers.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Gallegos, you can answer that briefly.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, as I stated in my statement, originally, both the Government and the plaintiffs estimated that there would be approximately 3,000 to 5,000 total claims as a result of this settlement. There have been some changes in the process that were determined by the court to extend the time for people who had not had an opportunity to file. That opened up a series of other claims that resulted in this large volume of claims, but it did not extend the 5-year period of the consent decree itself. But those are the numbers we are dealing with. That is a decision as to whether or not those claims are to be followed through. It is not a decision that USDA makes. It is made by the court-appointed officials who are charged with making that determination, not the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mr. COOKSEY. This will have to be addressed further.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We will recognize now Mr. Dyckman, you are welcome and please limit your testimony if I you can.
STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE J. DYCKMAN, DIRECTOR, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. DYCKMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to address the subcommittee today on civil rights issues at the Department of Agriculture. As we all know, for a number of years, some minority and women farmers have asserted that the Farm Service Agency discriminates against them, treating them differently from other farmers during the loan approval and foreclosure process. Furthermore USDA has faced charges that its office of civil rights has not conducted proper and timely investigations of complaints of discrimination.
I want to talk about three things today. First, the differences in processing times and approval rates for direct loans for Hispanic farmers versus non-Hispanic farmers. Then I will talk about USDA's policies for staying foreclosures and how these policies have been implemented. And finally I will talk about OCR's progress in addressing previously identified problems associated with the processing of discrimination complaints and some human capital issues. And I want to point out that our statement is based on the report that we issued to Congressman Baca and Reyes last week.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In summary, first concerning the loan applications, we found that during fiscal year 2000 and 2001, FSA took an average of 4 days longer, 20 days versus 16 to process loan applications from Hispanic farmers than it did from non-Hispanic farmers. We also found FSA direct loan approval rate for Hispanic farmers was lower than non-Hispanic farmers. It was 83 versus 90 percent respectively. We also noticed that although FSA does monitor variations in loan processing times and approval rates between minorities and nonminorities, it has not established criteria for determining when variations are significant enough to warrant further inquiry.
In addition while FSA conducts periodic field reviews of State offices, performance and civil rights matters and suggests improvements, it does not require that State offices implement recommendations and does not monitor the offices' follow-up efforts.
Now, I would like to move on to the staying of foreclosure issue. Concerning USDA's issues for staying foreclosures when discrimination has been alleged, these policies depend on the method lodged in the complaint. When an individual has a discrimination complaint accepted by OCR, FSA's policy is to automatically issue a stay of foreclosure until the complaint has been resolved. And we looked into 26 cases of Hispanic farmers and we found that in 24 of those cases, USDA did follow its procedures. But in two, it did not, and we think it is primarily because of poor communication between OCR and FSA.
Now in contrast, USDA does not have a standard policy for staying foreclosures for members of discrimination class action suits filed in court. Instead, USDA makes these stay of foreclosure decisions on a case-by-case basis, and it says it considers the merits of each case.
Since 1997, USDA has stayed fourtwo class action cases and has not stayed two others, including the Hispanic farmer suit, because the agency believes that the circumstances did not warrant a stay in those two suits. Finally, we found that OCR has made what we consider modest progress in the length of time it takes to process discrimination complaints. USDA, as we know, requires OCR to complete just the investigation phase of processing complaints within 180 days. In fiscal year 2000, OCR took an average of 365 days to complete this phase. Although they did have a slight improvement to 315 days in fiscal year 2001, this data clearly shows that they far exceed the Department's internal 180-day requirement.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC More importantly, because USDA does not have a processing time requirement for all phases of complaint resolution, it lacks a meaningful way to measure its overall performance. And if you look at all stages of the complaint resolution, you will find some astronomical numbers of 772 days in fiscal year 2000 with some slight reduction to 676 in fiscal year 2001. We also found that although OCR has implemented many recommendations in the past by USDA's Inspector General by internal task forces and in some instances by the General Accounting Office, these actions have not resolved fundamental underlying problems adversely affecting the offices' ability to process complaints in a timely manner.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Dyckman, we have 5 minutes remaining in the vote. We will pick up the remainder of your testimony when we return. The subcommittee will stand in recess.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The subcommittee will reconvene.
Mr. Dyckman, we unfortunately had to interrupt you in the middle of your presentation. If you have some additional remarks, please proceed.
Mr. DYCKMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was wrapping up actually. Our report on page 15 of our full report contains seven recommendations to address the problems that we found to help resolve issues surrounding charges of discrimination and FSA's direct loan program. We are recommending that USDA establish criteria as to when discrepancies between minority and nonminority loan processing times and approval rates warrant further inquiry. In addition, we recommend that State offices be required to implement recommendations made as a result of FSA field reviews or explain in writing their rationale for not doing so. To help reduce problems and confusion surrounding stays of foreclosures in cases where discrimination has been alleged, we are recommending three things: Improving communication between FSA and OCR, developing a policy statement that explains how USDA makes stay of foreclosure decisions on class action lawsuits, and retention of historical information on foreclosures. To help improve timeliness of processing discrimination complaints filed by farmers, we are recommending that OCR establish time requirements for all stages of the complaint process and develop an action plan that addresses ongoing staffing and morale problems. I might add, Mr. Chairman, that in responding to a draft of this report, USDA generally agreed with the recommendations, and that concludes my statement and I will be happy to answer any questions.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Mr. Dyckman appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Dyckman.
Mr. Gallegos, witnesses who will follow you this morning will testify that the consent decree is a sham. There has been no injunctive relief and finally that discrimination of both farmers and employees is continuing and pervasive throughout the Department of Agriculture. I wonder if you might, in addition to your opening statement, if you might respond to those complaints.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, I would, in the instance of this specific question, I would defer to Nancy Bryson, our general counsel, because I think it is more appropriate that the response come from her.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Ms. Bryson. And we are joined by Mr. Little who is replacing Mr. Shipman.
Ms. BRYSON. There is something I would like to submit to the hearing record, and that is the report of the monitor, which was filed in September 11 on this decree, because I think it will set forth in a very objective way what actually has been accomplished under the consent decree.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection it will be made part of the record.
[The information is on file with the committee.]
Ms. BRYSON. Our position is that the consent decree has I think as the court has repeatedly held in his rulings, provided an extensive amount of relief in this case. There have been over 20,000 claims that have been filed and accepted and decided at the first issue of decision making. And over $600 million has been paid out under the track A claims. There has been significant debt forgiveness awarded. The areas where we can continue to work on implementing the consent decree are spelled out in the monitor report.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In particular, she notes that the whole area of injunctive relief is an area that needs some additional attention. One thing that we have been talking with the monitor about is extending the date for injunctive relief to make sure that farmers who have claims which are now being considered by the monitor, will be entitled to the full spectrum of injunctive relief available under the decree, and we are continuing to work with the monitor on those issues.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Gallegos, you indicate in your testimony there have been 28 removals in the 4 1/2 years that the USDA has taken disciplinary actions for discrimination. What is a removal? Does that mean fired from Government service, loss of pension or other benefits, or are employees simply placed in other positions within the USDA or another Government agency?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, ''removal'' means ''fired.''
Mr. GOODLATTE. In light of the question that the gentleman from Louisiana was asking, 28 removals certainly couldn't constitute all the people that might have been engaged in discrimination of the massive extent that constitutes the claims filed. And how many claims have you now settled, 13,000?
Ms. BRYSON. If you would permit me to help Mr. Gallegos out, USDA doesn't settle any of the claims under the consent decree. The independent fact-finders make all the decisions.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How many claims have been settled by the independent fact-finders?
Ms. BRYSON. The independent fact-finders have decided over 21,000 claims. Some of those are on appeal to the monitor.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How many of the 21,000 resulted in an award to a minority farmer?
Ms. BRYSON. Approximately 13,000 at this point.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. So my figure was accurate. And my point still stands, if you have 13,000 acts of discrimination, I doubt they were all done by 28 people.
Ms. BRYSON. Under the track A proceeding, there is a minimal evidentiary showing. It is substantial evidence. It is less than preponderance of the evidence. In looking at accountability, the application of the accountability regulations under that process, there is a higher evidentiary standard for making decisions about accountability.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Now, I am also concerned about the other point that I think the gentleman from Louisiana was driving at, and that is, given the number of minority farmers in the country, there seem to be far more claims filed than there are farmers. And I wonder if Mr. Gallegos or Ms. Bryson or Mr. Dyckman, you could comment on that. And let me know whether there is fraud involved here or is there another explanation for why we have such a large number of claims relative to what was anticipated and what may be statistically possible.
Ms. BRYSON. If I could go on that one. The language of the consent decree describes or grants status to farmers who farmed or attempted to farm. And the number of 18,000 describes what are the current number of black farmers in the United States today. People who believed that they attempted to farm and applied for a grant under a USDA program but believed they were denied it because of discrimination also had the right to file under this consent decree.
Mr. GOODLATTE. What standard of evidence do they have to produce? I mean, a farmer who has got an established farm is in business and has not been able to receive Government assistance, it seems to me there is an easier standard to me to prove that that individual may not have received help that they were entitled to. But somebody who simply claims they were going to farm and somebody discriminated against them, that would all seem to hinge upon the evidence of the contacts made with the relevant Department of Agriculture office and are those things documented? Is there an objective standard one can pursue to determine whether or not someone did, indeed, attempt to farm, as you put it?
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. BRYSON. The consent decree describes the evidentiary material that is required. It is a sworn affidavit. The independent adjudicator looks at those affidavits and makes a decision about whether the standard is satisfied.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How many claims remain unresolved at this point?
Ms. BRYSON. There was a little bit of confusion I think about the late-filed claims. There are some 60,000 late claims that have been filed. The court has directed the arbitrator Michael Lewis to review those claims and make decisions. There is a report from the arbitrator explaining the process he used to make these decisions, which we can also provide for the record and would be glad to do so. It is a public document. And of the 60,000 that have been reviewed so far, approximately 1,000, I think, have gone forward into the process. The rest have been denied.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Are you saying 59,000 have been denied or a smaller number of the total of 60,000.
Ms. BRYSON. Arlean Leland, our associate general counsel for civil rights, who is here with me, today has advised me 30,000 have actually been denied. The arbitrator still has a number of these which he is looking at.
Mr. GOODLATTE. So a thousand have been agreed to, 30,000 denied and roughly half, or slightly less than half are still unresolved?
Ms. BRYSON. Yes.
Mr. GOODLATTE. But there is a suggestion that there is some misrepresentation going on or some fraud if 29,000 out of 30,000 are being denied. What is the basis for those denials?
Ms. BRYSON. I think as far as we can tell, because we are not making the decision, the adjudicator is making a decision that they don't meet the standards that are set in the consent decree in terms of the proof that you had asked me about before. There are some allegations of fraud. Those get directed to our officenot Office of General Counsel, Office of Inspector General, and those are referred to the FBI and Department of Justice for evaluation.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Has any action been taken on any of those?
Ms. BRYSON. I have no further information on that. I have put the question to the Department of Justice but they simply have said those matters have been referred.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Would you look into that further and report back to the committee on whether there have been any actual instances of fraud uncovered or whether there is some other basis for explaining that large number of unapproved claims.
Ms. BRYSON. We will do that.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Dyckman, do you have any comments on this aspect?
Mr. DYCKMAN. Last time we looked at it was a few years ago, and we issued a report on the status of it, but it is outdated so I would defer to USDA witnesses.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. And Mr. Gallegos, I have one last question, and I have exceeded my time, but as I said, 13,000 claims being granted, and 28 people being disciplined, and I am glad to hear discipline remains removal and removal means firing. However, are there other ongoing cases of employees who have been accused of taking discriminatory actions that are pending? Are there a large number who are accused of discrimination who have not been disciplined? What is the status with the disparity between the number of claims and the number of people terminated?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, I think it presents some difficulty in simply making the comparison as you suggest. Clearly if a finding of discrimination hasis indicated either in the program side of things or on the employment side of things, then that matter is referred to the Office of Human Resources at the department level. Then that office determines in reviewing the departmental progressive discipline plan as to the appropriate level of punishment, so it is not always removal. It may run the gambit of suspensions or other things that may occur. Letters of warning and so forth.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Do you have any figures available for us on that? If you do not, could you submit them to the committee within, say, the next 10 days?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, we are prepared to submit that information to you by close of business this week.
Mr. GOODLATTE. That would be appreciated. I recognize the gentlewoman from North Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you Mr. Gallegos. Let me just comment on generallyand I think you represent a sincere position that you certainly believe that put the cases behind you, but there are still questions about this litigation going on. I also take your remarks to be sincere when you want to have a direct communication with the minority farmers and want to make sure that no tolerationzero tolerance for discrimination.
But our facts do not substantiate your position, and I am sure that is your position and your intention that your department will rise to your position and your expectation. I would suggest also that rather have that direct line for minorities to call you, probably need a direct to call those employees to let them know they are fired when they discriminate.
That would be the message that needs to be communicated directly that there is no tolerance. I mean that would get the message better than anything else that rather than in addition to your statement, but statements have been made and people have had good intentions, but unless there is some consequences to breaking the law and people understand that, if indeed farmers have misrepresented and they are fraudulent, there are consequences to that.
And if the Justice Department is investigating as they should, there are consequences also to employees who have discriminated. And the fact that they have discriminated, it has been proven by the courts and the Government is paying over $600 million for actions that employees are still not held to any accountability. I can't imagine a corporation tolerating that. I can't imagine the private sector having anyone still on their payrolls who is causing that kind of tort liability or discrimination and we don't see the lack of due diligence on the part of the management to rid yourselves of that.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now I want to question the numbers that the chairman did. I do see if go down the column accountability. I gather you are reading from the same chart I have. I see that if I take removal and go down the column about 28 to 26, that doesn't really make that big a difference. 28 to 38, that is a very small number. But when you look at where the action is, these lawsuits have come as a result of making requests for loans or making application through what we call the Farm Service Administration.
If I look just at the Farm Service Administration by itself, there is only four removals, not 28. The agency that is responsible for most of the discrimination are those individuals who have discretion or authority to deny assistance, deny loans, deny application. And that comes through the Farm Service Administration. I see only four there. I see that maybe you have given reprimand to 3 for 15 days or more. There is a grand total of 19. But when I look closely where the real action is on the grand total, I see 81 days for food service investigation.
Now, that is going after those poor people who break the law and getting food stamps. If any of those employees did anythingand I see 81 of those there have been some action and even there, there is less people who have had removal than those who have had any reprimand. Can you account for this emphasis or lack of emphasis where the problem is in the Farm Service Administration?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Clayton, it would be my opinion that, in fact, there has been in the past, and even to the present, a weakness in this area that we acknowledge. Let me say to you that to finish or extend on my previous answer that when these referrals are made to the Office of Human Resources where discrimination was indicated, that they go to our disciplinary plan and look at what would be the appropriate discipline to be taken. The action I propose to take is that when the Office of Human Resources gets done with that review, that it be forwarded to me personally, and that I will also review the recommendation of the Office of Human Resources as to the nature and extent of the disciplinary action that would be taken, because I think there is a broader responsibility here than just simply knowing the numbers. So that is one question. I would also say, Mr. Chairman and Mrs. Clayton, that the 81 number is for the Food Safety and Inspection Service as opposed to the Food and Nutrition Service.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. I stand corrected on that. But what was the weakness, you said? You described having four as a weakness in farm services?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Clayton, the weakness is a weakness of process. That is to say, that when the Office of Civil Rights comes to a determination that discrimination is indicated, that that matter then is forwarded to the Office of Human Resources, and that is between the time that that determination is made at the Civil Rights Office and gets to the Office of Human Resources, and then the action that follows following that, it is my firm belief that that has been a weakness where a lot of that information didn't get there at all, didn't get there on a timely basis, or it just sat there after it did get there. We propose to correct that and have been correcting that over a period of 4 years, but we are accelerating that process.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well I disagree with your terminology. I don't think it is a weakness. I think it is fraudulent. I think it is the most blatant example of negligence and disrespect that the Government would pay out this kind of money and not know the incompetence of allowing the very people who put the Government in debt caused this discrimination, to suggest that there is a weakness between processthere is a lack of political will to correct that issue. And Mr. Chairman, I have a number of questions. I have exceeded my time. So if we could have another round that would be an appropriate thing rather than pursue.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection, we will go another round. The gentleman from California is next on my list, Mr. Baca.
Mr. BACA. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Can you tell me whether the actual numbers of the claims that have been filed, I think you indicated beforewhat is the total number?
Ms. BRYSON. In claims in Pigford?
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BACA. Yes.
Ms. BRYSON. 21,000 have been accepted and processed. Then there are late claims, 60,000 or so, which are being considered by the arbitrator.
Mr. BACA. Doesn't it seem alarming that so many complaints are filed? I mean, it seems like there seems to be something wrong when you have 21 or 60 others and the possibility of complaints. I think this seems to be a strong message there. Don't you agree why there are so many complaints?
Ms. BRYSON. It is a strong message.
Mr. BACA. There appears to be something wrong and something needs to be changed.
Ms. BRYSON. I think that was the intent of the Pigford consent decree to begin that process of change.
Mr. BACA. Of the total number of complaints, how many of those complaints were filed by Hispanics or African-Americans or native Americans or Asians?
Ms. BRYSON. The Pigford consent decree defines the class as African-American farmers. So it would only be African-American farmers whose claims would be accepted under the Pigford decree.
Mr. BACA. What happens to the Hispanics who filed complaints?
Ms. BRYSON. There are several other class actions including on behalf of Hispanic farmers for the same time period.
Mr. BACA. Let me ask another question Mr. Gallegos. If FSA or OCR automatically issues a stay of foreclosure in the case of pending discrimination complaints, why should individuals or class action litigations be considered as an equal valid claim of grievance?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Baca, I would defer the response to Ms. Bryson.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. BRYSON. Could you please state it again.
Mr. BACA. If FSA or OCR automatically issues a stay of foreclosure in the case of a pending discrimination complaint, why should individuals or class action litigations be considered as an equal valid claim of grievance?
Ms. BRYSON. The Department's policy is when there is an open and accepted claim of discrimination that foreclosure is suspended, it is not pursued. Where we are involved in class action litigation with the Department of Justice, the Department of Justice, which makes decisions on issues like this to ensure the same position is taken across Government agencies has a role to play and a different result may obtain.
Mr. BACA. Why are individual farmers that are in to Garcia v. Veneman being denied a stay of foreclosure?
Ms. BRYSON. As I understand the situation, those stays are on hold pending decision by the court on class certification.
Mr. BACA. Is this designed as a means of forcing those wrongs not to sue?
Ms. BRYSON. I believe it is required by the procedures that govern class actions that are brought under FRCP 23, at least until certification is decided.
Mr. BACA. Let me ask another question, and this is to Mr. Dyckman. Are you familiar with the work of MIA professor Jerry Hausman in comparing Hispanic loan approval rates versus white approval rates?
Mr. DYCKMAN. I have looked over his report very briefly though the other day.
Mr. BACA. Was this study comprehensive nationwide?
Mr. DYCKMAN. The study does look at nationwide figures nationwide for Hispanic farmers.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BACA. Could you explain how these findings expand the limited scope of your studies?
Mr. DYCKMAN. Well, as I understand what Dr. Hausman did, he compared the presence of Hispanic farmers with approved loans. What we didand he used an earlier time period, although we reached similar conclusions. I think the main point is we bothour study and his study reached a conclusion that proportionately Hispanics were receiving a lower approval rate than non-Hispanics.
So he did not have access to all the information we had. He relied on freedom of information information and an earlier farm census. So the methodologies of the studies were different, but I believe the conclusions are somewhat similar.
Mr. BACA. Then again, if Hispanics were receiving a lower approval rate, there is another alarming factor that is there as well that tells us what we are doing in equal access and equal opportunity in obtaining the loans. It seems like something is wrong if, in fact, Hispanics are receiving a lower approval rate and what are the reasons why?
Mr. DYCKMAN. I mean, I agree with your line of questioning and that is why our report recommends the Department of Agriculture look at these things and have some criteria of when they need to inquire into differences and when their field offices do reviews, make sure that the recommendations are implemented. So we strongly support.
Mr. BACA. It is very important because a farmer then is looking towards having their crop done at a certain time of the year and if loans are being denied, then it becomes very difficult in their credit rating and they end up going to a private vendor or somewhere else to obtain the loans. Credit rating ends up going high. And then when they apply for a loan then they use that as part of discrimination towards individuals who may be applying for a loan because FSA did not process a particular loan; is that correct, as a possibility?
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DYCKMAN. I am not an expert on farm loans, but the story that you are describing seems very plausible.
Mr. BACA. Is it a way to foreclose their land and take over their land too as well is a possibility because it is another way of looking at the Guadalupe grant, that we are using other sophisticated methods of taking Hispanic farm land that we should be providing where we are providing others an opportunity? I see that sort of like happening and we are sort of like discriminating in one sense through the bureaucracy that we have in that loan process that is not done in a timely fashion or form. Could that exist?
Mr. DYCKMAN. Well, that is why we have the Garcia lawsuit, and USDA might be in a better position to answer that question.
Mr. BACA. Mr. Gallegos did you want to support me on my comments?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Baca, the participation rate and therefore the approval rate is the result of a variety of factors. But I will say to you that to a large extent, it depends on the quality of service, the timing of service that you suggested, but also our outreach efforts and whether or not, you know, Hispanics or any other minority population gets a clear and transparent message as to how that program will affect them, and when it will affect them and those kinds of things. So we have developed and as has the FSA, a much stronger, much more aggressive program to reach the potential participants in Farm Service Agency programs and if it is appropriate, I would ask Mr. Jim Little to specifically say what FSA is doing in that regard.
Mr. BACA. Mr. Little?
Mr. LITTLE. Well, Congressman, we are aggressively addressing our customer service in our field offices. And as a matter of fact in our national training for the farm bill that we had in New Orleans the week before last, we had a presentation to make cultural diversity and customer service awareness a center point for one of our sessions. We are doing our very best to break the communications gap. We are providing our forms as many as possible in Spanish as well as in Hmong language to address all ethnic groups.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The instance that was mentioned earlier in a highly large population of Hispanics not having access to those forms, I would like some specifics so I could see, you know, specifically where we are talking about because they should be providing these services as much as we can. We are also expanding our Web site, which I realize that a lot of the socially disadvantaged producers may not have access to the Web site, but we are making more and more of that available on our Web site in Spanish.
We are moving, we are probably not moving not as quickly as a lot of people would like us to move, but I think we are working aggressively to try to get our customer service improved, to get the timing of approving loans and borrowing for more borrowers more quickly. In our socially disadvantaged, it may take a little bit longer. There is a communications gap that we are having to deal with. It takes a little more time to help them work through how to understand thehow to fill out the forms, how to do a farm loan plan. One of the things we are doing, we have got several initiatives with land grant colleges.
We are working with Tuskegee University. We are working with the National Tribal Development Association in the northwest in improving our outreach programs in some States in the northwest. We expanded from Montana last year for the last 3 years, and this past year we expanded it to 10 States, and we would like to do it nationally trying to expand that. We also, about 3 or 4 weeks ago, we transferred $100 million back into our direct loan program that will help. I think it is about 2,000 hopefully. We will get to 2,000 additional farmers.
Many of those would be socially disadvantaged. We are going at it on a lot of fronts, but I think training not only for our customers, but with our employees, will go a long ways to narrowing the gap.
Mr. BACA. I am glad the outreach is being done and the communication gap as well. But there have been problems in the past, and I am glad you are looking at remedies. And I happened to call the hotline immediately when the number was here, and I called and spoke to them in Spanish and the person I got spoke Spanish. And you guys were lucky because if it would have been anybody else I would have turned around and jumped on them, but they happened to speak Spanish. But I should have asked for the forms to see if they were available, and I asked him if he had forms in Spanish and he indicated that he did. But I did call (866) 5382610 hotline and whoever answer the phone spoke in Spanish. Let me
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Baca if you could hold those questions until the second round, I will go to the gentleman from Mississippi, Mr. Thompson, and then the gentleman from Maine.
Mr. THOMPSON. Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Gallegos, I appreciate your comments that in USDA, there is no room for a bigot or bigotry. I compliment you on that. But what I would like to do, if you would, is kind of walk you through what the facts present. Ms. Clayton talked about only four people being removed from FSA because of discrimination. If you look at somewhere between 12 and 14,000 employees in an agency and those employees cost that agency somewhere between 600 and $700 million, and you only removed four of them for that, that is a disproportionate number in my mind. And I want you to look at that, because we get beat up about it a lot.
But there are a couple of things associated with that that I want you or Ms. Bryson to help me through. Last time we had a civil rights hearing, the General Counsel's Office had no minorities in it, and I am talking about people of color. Can you provide me with those numbers are now in terms of attorneys?
Ms. BRYSON. Yes. If I could submit that for the record to make sure I get it absolutely correct but we have a number of minority employees now.
Mr. THOMPSON. You don't have a guesstimate at this point?
Ms. BRYSON. We have 15 African-Americans.
Mr. THOMPSON. Are these attorneys?
Ms. BRYSON. Yes. We have 250 lawyers.
Mr. THOMPSON. Out of 250 lawyers, you have 15 African-Americans?
Ms. BRYSON. Yes.
Mr. THOMPSON. Can you provide this committee with how many civil rights complaints you have filed by people who are employed in the USDA Office of Civil Rights?
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Thompson, yes, absolutely we can provide you that data.
Mr. THOMPSON. Do you have any idea how many complaints are out there that you have by those individuals who actually are charged with looking at complaints?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Thompson, I believe that it is around 20. That is what I have been informed.
Mr. THOMPSON. Twenty complaints?
Mr. GALLEGOS. May I correct that? I am aware that there may be 20 complainants, but there may be more than just one complaint per complainant.
Mr. THOMPSON. If you would, provide me whatever information.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Certainly.
Mr. THOMPSON. Ms. Bryson, has an employee of USDA, to your knowledge, ever been suspended for attempting to provide information to the Government on a case dealing with shared application agreements?
Ms. BRYSON. I am sorry, sir. I don't know the answer to that question.
Mr. THOMPSON. Will you check your record and provide that. I want to provide you a memo from Mr. Thomas Kalil, an Arab American who alleged certain improprieties at USDA and I am told he was suspended because of that. And I want you to check it. Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter into the record a memo from Kalil.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
[The information appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. THOMPSON. I would also like to enter into the record something that was put on Mr. Kalil's door that said ''* * * * * * * Arab''excuse my French. And I would like to see what USDA did about these blatant acts of discrimination caused by an employee who, I am told, was just trying to provide information to the Government about some wrongdoing. So I would like to make sure that these two get in the record. With respect to that line of questioning, can you provide me the civil rights information by State for the last 2 years with respect to acts of discrimination charged by employees and acts of discrimination charged by customers of USDA?
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Thompson, absolutely, we can do that. Explain to me the civil rights training and outreach presently provided by USDA to employees and customers.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Thompson, we can do that.
Mr. THOMPSON. Is it your testimony that you believe USDA at this point does not discriminate against people of color?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Thompson, I certainly would not put myself in that position nor the Department as a whole. I cannot right the wrongs of the past. I can do something about the present, but I can do a lot more about the future, and I am committed about doing that. But to deny that there is discrimination at whatever level in USDA would be a foolish statement for me to make before this committee.
Mr. THOMPSON. Mr. Dyckman, did you find a uniform application procedure for people wanting to apply for loans from Farm Service?
Mr. DYCKMAN. Sir, we didn't look at the actual procedures that farmers used. We primarily looked at approval rates and the like, but not at the actual application.
Mr. THOMPSON. Mr. Little, can you address that?
Mr. LITTLE. I will try, sir. We do have a standard process and there is a standardized process that our instructions to the county office are to take on all loans and all processes. They look at their qualifications. They make every effortand I honestly believe we make a very good faith effort to try to get them to qualify looking at each individual circumstance. So since you haveI mean we have 2,500 county offices.
Mr. THOMPSON. Excuse me. Let me get to the point. If a prospective borrower called the office inquiring about making a loan, is it the policy of the agency to tell that person they don't have any money?
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LITTLE. It is not my policy, and I don't think it would be in the field also.
Mr. THOMPSON. So it is your testimony before this committee that if anybody called an FSA office asking about borrowing money for a loan, they should not be told that you don't have any money?
Mr. LITTLE. We tell them that they need to apply. We should not be telling them on the phone we don't have any money. We may tell them that USDA does not have any money. If we have run out of money, we may tell them we don't have any money to loan them right now, but that doesn't preclude them from coming in and making an application. That was the instance where we transferred $100 million. When farmers were coming in at that time and asking for loans, we may have told them we don't have any money.
Mr. THOMPSON. One of the issues associated with Pigford was the fact that black farmers were told they didn't have any money, there is no reason to apply for the money because they wouldn't get it anyway. And what I am trying to see is whether or not we have changed the culture and the climate of FSA in light of the fact that we have cost the Government almost $700 million in discrimination costs. And if, in fact, that same black farmer would call that agency and get told the same thing when, in fact, that is not what is supposed to be, then we are still in trouble.
Mr. LITTLE. I agree. And as Mr. Gallegos said, there is not room for one of those instances at the Farm Service Agency.
Mr. THOMPSON. So we are now back to being the land of last resort with this transfer of $100 million.
Mr. LITTLE. Until that money runs out, yes, sir.
Mr. THOMPSON. So what have you done to mark it, that $100 million transfer to small and minority farmers?
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LITTLE. We put out press releases. Each county office has the information and they should be putting out their own similar press releases. We send out information to the county offices with kind of fill in the blanks that, you know, that we have additional funding now. Hopefully it is done on a broad basis, radio spots. The Secretary had a press bridge last week
Mr. THOMPSON. Let me just say that I live in a highly agricultural area. I am a Member of Congress and a member of this committee, and I have seen no information in my district on this particular transfer and this ability for small and disadvantaged farmers to come in and take advantage of it. So somewhere it might be reaching North Carolina, but it is not reaching Mississippi. But I want you to assure this committee that you go back and make sure that land grant colleges, minority farmers, minority elected officials, civil rights and/or advocacy groups are plugged into this ability. I mean, that is why we are holding this hearing.
Mr. LITTLE. I may want to defer to Mr. Gallegos from a departmental perspective.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Thompson, I have just returned from two major conferences, USDA, which I publicly announced. I was in Phoenix, AZ at the summit for emerging economies for Indian nations. We made that clear to over 1,500 registers there. And then I went to Albuquerque, NM and spoke to a small farmers conference. I came back from Windrock, AZ on a consultation with the Navajo Nation and we made that clear.
By the end of October, we will have through our departmental outreach office, a conference in Richmond, VA to extend this information to be followed by six more such conferences across the country to make sure that we reach small and disadvantaged farmers. These are focused specifically on reaching those individuals.
Mr. THOMPSON. Well, I will relinquish after this, Mr. Chairman, but one of the things I will ask of the next two panels is whether or not they have heard of this $100 million being available. And I think being leaders in the community, it will show you that there is still a long way to go.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GALLEGOS. And Mr. Chairman, Mr. Thompson, it is our full intent to engage in partnership with these organizations and these leaders. This is not just an exclusive USDA thing. And I have been reminded that one of the other conferences scheduled is Tchula, Mississippi.
Mr. THOMPSON. In my district. So you are going to let the Congressman know at some point?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Yes, sir. I would hope that you could keynote it, sir.
Mr. THOMPSON. Well, if I am told.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman. The gentleman from Maine has been most patient.
Mr. BALDACCI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I request unanimous consent to change the rules of the committee hearing today to allow Mr. Conyers, if he so chooses, to utilize the same amount of time that any other member of the committee would have to ask questions.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I object.
Mr. BALDACCI. Mr. Chairman, I would like to move, I would waive my own time to defer to Mr. Conyers to be able to use if he so chooses to use that time to be able to ask any questions that he would like to ask and I would request unanimous consent.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Hearing no objection, that consent is granted and the gentleman will need to yield it.
Mr. BALDACCI. I am yielding it.
Mr. GOODLATTE. He is not here to receive it.
Mr. BALDACCI. I am yielding it when he comes here Mr. Chairman.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Is he coming?
Mr. BALDACCI. He is on the floor because there is a bill that deals with his committee that he needs to be there on dealing with abortion issues. So he needed to be on the floor so he couldn't be in both places. So the open-endedness of it, if he gets here and is able to ask questions, then he can use my time. If he isn't able to be here I think it would be the committee's indulgence to allow him to submit questions as it would any other member to defer to the Department to be able to respond to those questions that he would ask. Would that be appropriate?
Mr. GOODLATTE. We would take any request by Mr. Conyers under advisement at the time he makes it. As to your yielding time to him, I would prefer that he would be here to do that. But given the fact that I take it you are leaving
Mr. BALDACCI. My understanding, Mr. Chairman, if I may interrupt you, indicated there may be another round of questions.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Right. And two more panels to go.
Mr. BALDACCI. It would be open and available that he could use my time for that purpose.
Mr. GOODLATTE. That is not going to stand. If you are here and prepared to yield to him, and we will if he comes before the end of this panel, we will yield time to him on this panel.
Mr. BALDACCI. Mr. Chairman, I will yield time to him when I feelat this time I would like to ask the Department one question. Mr. Gallegos, I was reading the report and the thing that concerned me the most is FSA's apparent lack of enforcement of civil rights allegations versus other departments within USDA and the difference was so striking between the food safety and inspection service compared to FSA.
And I was wondering why the number of disciplinary actions are so much greater there given the fact that there is many more employees at Farm Service Agency than there is at food safety inspection. You are in charge of human resources at the Department?
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GALLEGOS. Yes, sir.
Mr. BALDACCI. Do you know the proportional level of employment at the various agencies?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Yes, sir, I believe that the food safety and inspection services approximately 7,000 employees across the country.
Mr. BALDACCI. How many employees in the Farm Service Agency?
Mr. GALLEGOS. I think the Farm Service Agency has somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 employees.
Mr. BALDACCI. Why the number of disciplinary actions so much greater at Food Safety and Inspection Service?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, I don't have an exact explanation other than it would be my opinion and that is opinion only at this point that one agency has been much more aggressive in this regard than others.
Mr. BALDACCI. The paperwork I have in front of me says no actions were taken at FSA in this fiscal year. Is that up-to-date information?
Mr. GALLEGOS. I believe that is correct, sir.
Mr. BALDACCI. It says January 1, 1998 at FSA, a total number of four people were dismissed, seven suspended and five reprimanded and three cautioned. Is that an accurate accounting?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, I want to correct myself in terms of the employment levels. Food Safety Inspection Service is approximately 9,300 employees, and Farm Service Agency is approximately 5,800. I apologize. I missed your last question.
Mr. BALDACCI. How are you defining Farm Service Agency personnel?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, I will yield
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BALDACCI. Are you counting the county committees and the membership?
Mr. GALLEGOS. The county committees are not employees of the Department of Agriculture, and in a technical sense neither are the county employees of the State office. But I would ask Mr. Little to respond specifically as to how that FSA system works in this country.
Mr. LITTLE. I do not have the exact numbers, but the approximate number of Federal employees is in the neighborhood of 5,000 and then the additional 10 to 12,000 county office employees that are located in the field.
Mr. BALDACCI. If a county employeewho is a county employee, not a Federal employeewe went through that a few years agobut if they have a civil rights violation, is that all part of the same mix that gets reported to the central department or does that go somewhere else because they are not a Federal employee?
Mr. LITTLE. I believe it is included in the Department level.
Mr. BALDACCI. So the number of county employees is totalling what? What is the total number of county employees?
Mr. LITTLE. I think it is in the neighborhood of 10,000.
Mr. BALDACCI. Plus how many Federal employees?
Mr. LITTLE. 5,800.
Mr. BALDACCI. So it is about 15, 16,000. And then how many Food Safety personnel are there? You said it earlier, 8 or 9,000, 9,300?
Mr. GALLEGOS. I said thatapproximately 9,300, sir.
Mr. BALDACCI. The proportion in terms of the discipline and your answer was that it was a lot more aggressive at Food Safety or appeared to be a lot more aggressive at Food Safety. I am submitting to you that it would probably be a good service for Farm Service to adhere to.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Where is the appointment of the Civil Rights Director? Where is that Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights that was approved by the Congress? Where is that in the Department process in terms of nomination?
Mr. GALLEGOS. The Secretary has, to date, interviewed a total of four candidates, most recently within the last 2 weeks. So that process is ongoing. We do have candidates. We are on the planning side of things and implementation of the office. We have made recommendations to the Secretary which she supports, and we are ready to move as rapidly as we can in doing that.
We have a plan for implementation. It would be the creation of the office similarly to all other sub-Cabinet-level offices in the Department of Agriculture, with a complete transfer of all of the delegations for civil rights that exist in the Assistant Secretary for Administration's purview at the moment. That total delegation and the staff of the Office of Civil Rights would all follow to that new organization.
Mr. BALDACCI. Just in closing, Mr. Chairman, the county committees are a great organization. The way they are set up, the way that they are in contact and work with our local farmers and our farming community, it is a wonderful model. Our experience is in the northern part of the country it has been wonderful to work with; and, frankly, I would like to see those copied elsewhere for other agents to have that local support. But it appears in some section of the country that they are running amuck, and it seems to me that it is up to the Department to show the leadership which you have talked about today, and I want to work with you and the Department to do everything I can do to reinforce it.
But, as you pointed out, you cannot tolerate this kind of behavior; and we need to send that message from the top down so that people who bring these complaints up do not end up being the one that gets disciplined. That sends the wrong message because nobody wants to bring anything up. We do not want to send that message out there. We want people to be comfortable bringing their complaints to us..
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, thank you for your indulgence, and I look forward to being here for the second round.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The second round begins with the gentlewoman from North Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for having a second round.
Mr. Gallegos, let me follow-up on a couple of things.
First, before I do that, there was a whole discussion about numbers and discrepancies of numbers. It confuses all, including myself. But the agriculture census, when they take the census, they count operation, farm operation rather than people. So, in some instances, a farm operation can have only one person run that farm. A farm operation can have multiple people running that farm.
In the consent decree, although they may be correcting that, all members of that family could actually make application or file a complaint. The resolution of that would be resolved around that operation and pro rata among the people who were there.
The other one is that, even that being the case, the census process is notoriously known to undercount minorities. So in addition to the consent decree allowing the statute of limitation to be removed, which meant people could go back 20 and 30 years, it did indeed include the complaints where people were told there was no money, so you need not apply. In fact, they were not even given the opportunity. They were discouraged from farming. They did not have what it took to farm.
Now they have to have evidence. There is a standard of evidence.
But the confusion of number is caused by several factors, among them being the census itself, how we take it, how reliable it is, and the fact that they count farmers based on the operation.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My understanding is that the lawsuit is either the Justice Department is crediting the multiple members of families applying, but their resolution is based on their operation rather than on the members farming. So I wanted to indicate that.
And by the way, because we now only have 18,000 farmers, you should recognize that even in the flawed census that we took in 1978 there was 37,551 black farmers; 1982, there were 32-, so we have a steady decline.
Again, if they were only talking about operations, the figures you cited in 1990we have taken census since thenwas 18,000. We have taken census since the 1990's. So you can all see the great decline that is happening to small farmers and in particular minority and black farmers that is happening in this century alone. So we are looking at confusing numbers.
I want to follow-up on Mr. Thompson's question aboutand he has already entered Mr. Tom Harris' issue. That was deploring. I also received that memoranda. I think it was a memoranda that had been written to Mr. Cooksey in terms of an interim regulation getting some inquiry, and as a result of that finding is that he was suspended without pay.
He is back now. He is a senior manager, not a novice. This is someone who I understand is either grade 14 or 15, and he has been in service at the USDA for more than 20 years. So we are not talking about a junior person. It was a senior person who was making the kind of inquiry to make sure that the interim regulations were in place and showing some discrepancy between the interim and the practice.
So you almost see what is happening. A whistleblower, someone who is bringing the Department to accountability of the discrepancy between the internal memorandum and your practice then gets the ultimate execution. You kill the messenger. So if that is happening internallyand we will hear from employees later as to other incidents of that. Do you want to comment on that? Do you know about this case? This person that has been working for years and a senior person thatthis should have also come to your attention.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Clayton, I can comment on it this way. I am indeed aware of some of the actions because Mr. Kalil has come to see me and I have discussed and he has discussed with me some of the history involved in this thing. But, nonetheless, the matter is at the Farm Service Agency at the moment, so I cannot speak for Privacy Act reasons of Mr. Kalil's about that.
However, I will say this, and this is something that Mr. Thompson referred to, and that was the stuff that was painted on Mr. Kalil's door. He called me directly the moment he discovered that, and I immediately assigned security for the permanent protection of Mr. Kalil. I also made it known to everybody in the Department that that kind of behavior would not be tolerated anywhere. I also assured that the Muslim members of USDA who normally have their worship at noon on Fridays in the south building of USDA would continue to do that and I would offer protection. I personally attended that service to illustrate that that was our posture, and this result ensued from Mr. Kalil's information to me.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Also, there was a further charge where white powder was sent from his superior's office to his home and USDA had to fumigate his home because of the possibility of infection. Can you comment on that?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Clayton, I only do know generally of the incident. We had several instances at the USDA following the anthrax scare of reports of powders of one sort or another. Fortunately, the USDA does have the equipment to detect those kind of things in the air if they are aerosolized, and we did a tremendous amount testing, and we continue to have that capability.
In any case, we were not able to confirm that there were any dangerous pathogens involved in this event.
Mrs. CLAYTON. So this was just a prank that someone from USDA sent to your employee's home where you were called to investigate?
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Clayton, I would characterize it as a prank, although I cannot speak to an individual's motivation who was unknown to me in that regard.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, let me ask you to speak to what you are doing to investigate it. Where is your responsibility in this?
Mr. GALLEGOS. My responsibility in an instance of that sort is to make sure that the appropriate law enforcement agencies are made aware of the entire set of facts here, and this was done. This was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Let me ask you what procedure do you have in place to correct what you think is a failure between the Office of Civil Rights and your office? And I am assumingthe Office of Civil Rights certainly has a very bad reputation. I did not know the office had 270 some lawyers, I must confess. Is that what I was told? Oh, general counsel. The Office of Civil Rights really has a flawed reputation because of the large number of complaints against them, the very office that is supposed to help all the other departments. You have employees within that Department bringing complaints against their supervisor and just a number of incidents of that.
So whatgiven your responsibility for human resources, have you attempted to speak to that morale issue within that agency?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Clayton, both the Civil Rights Office and the Human Resources Office report to me.
One of the early decisions that I made was to bring into departmental administration Mr. Clyde Thompson as an Associate Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Civil Rights. I believe that to date since his coming that a higher level of management and emphasis has been brought to the coordination of those two organizations so that, as we move forward, the quality and the morale of the people in the Office of Civil Rights I believe is improving; and I would suggest that some of the improvements in processing times and the like suggests that qualitatively that office is getting better.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now that is not to say that in some instances it looks like a revolving door, and that is more perception from past history than the current, because I think that we have changed procedures, we have modernized the processes in the office. We now can, in fact, track cases. When I got to the Department they were in cardboard boxes laying around all over the place. We have a library now with internal controls to make sure that we can find a case. We have a modern automated tracking system that has been put in place recently.
So I think that we have elevated the level of attention and the quality of leadership as well as brought in new processes to hold to a higher level of accountability that office. That it also, by having Mr. Thompson preside over both of these organizations, he will force cooperation and has, to a higher level of clarity than has in my opinion ever been true at USDA.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, we are delighted to hear that, and we hope that will become the reality as well as the goal.
My colleague from Maine brought up the value of the model of the State committees. I think they are unique in that they do have the personal and the friendly customer relationship. However, that is a flawed system in terms of standard implementation of Federal laws. They are immune from that.
I am not suggesting that you wanted to give that, but the fact that you could say 5,500 Federal employees in FSA, but most of the complaints of all of those lawsuits occurred in a local locality, they occurred in North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, in counties, not even at the State level. So those that you have employed at State level who were in the position of supervising, those who actually implement the laws are the county officials who are paid by Federal resources. The standard of antidiscrimination is not thoroughly implemented or otherwise you do not hold them accountable.
How many of those four that you have were actually at the county level? You had a total of four who have been fired. How many of those were at the county level?
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GALLEGOS. MadamMrs. Clayton, Mr. Chairman, I would defer to Mr. Little for the specific answer to that question.
Mr. LITTLE. I don't have the specific numbers of the 4, whether they are county or Federal, but one thing I do need to clarify in the county committee system, the county committees do have supervisory responsibilities over the employees that are in the county offices. But maybe the misunderstanding of these 10 to 15these 10 to 12,000 county employees, the county employees reflect the individuals that carry out the farm programs, the commodity price support type programs. Those other county employees.
Of the 5,800 Federal employees, they are also Federal employees in the county offices and most of those are the ones that provide the services for the farm loan programs. But unfortunately, I do not have the statistics of the four that were disciplined or the additional information of whether they were county or Federal.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I am going to let you get back to me on that. Would you just provide information to us about the number of complaints that the Government has paid dollars out on and where they occurred and what action has been taken in those instances where you know there have been cases of discrimination that have occurred here at the Washington office, regional or local? That would be helpful.
My final question: How are you implementing or how do you plan to implement the transparency requirement in the farm bill, showing how programs and the systems are fairly distributed without regard to race or sex or age? What plans are under way?
Mr. GALLEGOS. I would defer to Mr. Little specifically in terms of his FSA action plan.
Mr. LITTLE. Under the farm bill, as I mentioned earlier, we did havewe had national training, where it was train the trainer. We also had four regional sessions that provided training to anybody who wanted to show up nationally, and those were conducted in association with the land-grant institutions.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Those people that attended that, attended the training, it was another train the trainer type opportunity where those people would then go out into the community and train additional people.
We anticipate that by the time these sessions are filtered out into the grass-roots areas that we will have trained at least 100,000 people.
We are providing information, as I mentioned, on our Web site and trying to get the information out to as many people as possible. We are also working hand in hand with CSRES under the 2501 program.
The extension service is trying to get as much information out to the grass-roots as possible, as Mr. Gallegos mentioned early. He and I both were in Wind Rock Monday to talk to the native Americans. I was with him in Albuquerque the week before last talking to the National Small Farm Conference, trying to get the message out on what we are doing under the farm bill.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Let me push you to the question of transparency. There is a provision in the farm bill that talks about required transparency of information that you should have already in your computer system. It is about providing the information about the distribution of program grant loans to farmers and that that should be provided at the local level. What are you doing to implement that provision of the farm bill?
Mr. LITTLE. One thing we are doing as information is generated on the loans that we are making, we are providing it on the Internet, on our Web site, showing how it is distributed by county, by program.
Every borrower that comes into our office is going to be provided the technical assistance that they arethat they need. If they do not feel like they are getting the services that they want from the county office, we have the help line, the 800 number. We are doing everything we can.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. And that is being posted by gender and race, as required by the farm bill?
Mr. LITTLE. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. At the county level?
Mr. LITTLE. I may have misspoken when I said by countywe are doing it by county, yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The gentleman from California, Mr. Baca.
Mr. BACA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me proceed.
First of all, I commended having a person that spoke Spanish when I called the hotline earlier. I should have followed up, and so I appreciateI should have followed up with a question, and I did call back again, but this time I asked her how long she has been employed and it has only been a month. I wish it had been some time ago. At least I was able to get some clarification that there is some movement.
Let me ask you, was this done because of the hearing that was coming up that all of a sudden moves were done in hiring and reaching out? Just a question, I am curious.
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Baca, no, it was not. This ensued from a very constructive dialog that was had, in fact, with the Secretary and representatives of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Organization. That is where the idea came from, and that is where it was put in place. Since that meeting to current date, that is now in place.
Mr. BACA. I hope that they have more individuals that work there other than the one that I happened to speak to that spoke in Spanish. She became curious in terms of why I was calling again. She even knew my name. I don't know how she still remembered my name from the previous phone call, but she did. But at least that was clarified, anyway.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Earlier in my statement, I talked about the Office of Civil Rights needing to establish clear timetables for processing of discrimination complaints from the beginning to the end. Is this being done?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Baca, yes, it is.
Mr. BACA. What are the changes in the timetables? Because apparently there is, under stage 1 through 3, where it takes so many days to process that application which could lead into the foreclosure and handling of the complaint.
Mr. GALLEGOS. What I can answer, Mr. Baca, is that each phase has its own performance standard tied to it, not only in terms of the time frame that it should take to complete that phase of it but that translates into the performance standard for the individual employee as well. Soas part of their evaluation in terms of their performance. So there is an accountability feature beyond just meeting the time frames. But that reflects whether or not that they have actually succeeded in their job or not, and that accountability goes up the chain.
Ultimately, in some ways myself as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights has to make a determination as to the civil rights performance of agency administrators, and I assign that rating based on their success or failure to meet our civil rights objectives.
Mr. BACA. So what is the time line that has been set? Is there a specific time line that has been set in establishing new guidelines here?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Baca, as best that I can respond to now is that we plan to develop an absolutely comprehensive plan for each phase of the processing. Our plan would be to eliminate all of the backlog that is causing some of this processing time, but with statute of limitation cases we expect to get that number, the backlog number, down to zero in the program and within 1 year to zero on the employment backlog.
Mr. BACA. I hope it is done because of the hardship it creates in the individual who files a complaint. If that process is not complete in that time, it is a hardship in the survival of the individual and the retaliation that goes on in processing that. I know because I personally one time filed a complaint with EEOC and it took forever and the hardship on me and my familyso I can imagine what farmers and others are looking at in terms of survival in terms of their particular farms and what it means to them. So I hope that those guidelines would be established, because I know what it is like going through filing a complaint and looking at retaliation because there was retaliation to me when I filed that particular complaint myself.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I can speak from an individual who has filed against and had to go through the process at FEBC EEOC and going past the statute of limitations and the effects it had on me and my family before they handled the case which I happened to win. It took a long process.
I have a series of other questions. One of the other questions I have: If Hispanic farmers, African-Americans, Asians, native Americans, file a discrimination complaint and later the Department decides to start foreclosure procedures, are independent reviews conducted to determine whether discrimination contributed to the foreclosure action taken against a farmer? If not, why? And are foreclosure procedures halted until a farmer's discrimination complaint is investigated? If not, why? A series of three or four questions.
Mr. GALLEGOS. I would ask Ms. Bryson to respond specifically to your question.
Ms. BRYSON. USDA policy is that we not do foreclose where there is an open and accepted complaint of discrimination pending.
Mr. BACA. That is on the record? You stated that?
Ms. BRYSON. Yes.
Mr. BACA. One of the reports recommends conducting a complete review of the county committee and office staff to determine whether nepotism, conflict of interest or discrimination in program delivery exists. Were substantive reviews conducted and, if so, what were the results?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Baca, I would ask Mr. Little to respond.
Mr. LITTLE. Following the majority of the Pigford cases being determined, I did direct our civil rights staff in conjunction with the departmental civil rights staff to conduct a review of the eight States that had the highest level of instances in them to determine if there were any areas of past discrimination, that we had corrected the issues and to ensure that we were in compliance all civil rights laws.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BACA. Thank you.
On the previous question that was just responded, that foreclosure was not done. I have a list of seven Latinos' names who were foreclosed, and I will go through the names: Gilbert Garcia, Lupe Garcia, Edward Provencio, George Provencio, Rudy Perez, Arturo Vasquez, Rodolfo Perez, Alberto Alvarez and Gilbert Garcia, Junior. These are individuals, and you indicated that that did not happen, but I happened to have the information that was just given to me on the foreclosure.
Ms. BRYSON. I think the USDA position is that there is no foreclosure when there is an open and accepted complaint pending in our Civil Rights Division. I don't know this for a fact, but I recognize the Garcia last name as the name of the lead plaintiff in the class action that is pending in district court at this point. There may be a distinction because of that, I just don't know, but we can look at those names and respond to you.
Mr. BACA. I hope so, because it is difficult looking at this and hearing what you are telling us and wondering what is going on. I don't know who to believe. All we want is justice and the equality and the process to apply across the board, and we do not want individuals to have foreclosure and lose their farms because of a process that took so long because of inaction prior to and some guidelines that were not established that penalized individualsAfrican-Americans, Hispanics, native Americans and Asianswho tried to go through this process but were retaliated or discriminated in one form or another, even though we may say it is not, but it is.
Ms. BRYSON. I understand. We will be glad to take the list of names and give you an exact description for each of them.
Mr. GOODLATTE. With that, the committee will have to stand in recess. We have two votes on the floor.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. We do hope that the people who wanted to get in a second round will get here momentarily.
Mrs. CLAYTON. If you would, would youMr. Gallegos, would you submit your response as to howand it may be Mr. Little's responsibility, I don't knowpeople could find your Web page and have access to that, because as Mr. Thompson said earlier, you may have on your Web page where we would find this information about the transparency so people know about the implementation of that.
Is there a Web page?
Mr. LITTLE. Congresswoman, we are in the process of putting that information on the Web site. I don't believe we have it down to the Statewe have it down at the State level, but don't have it to the county level. But you can get it by going to fsa.usda.gov, and I can provide for you the exact navigation once you get there. I don't have that with me right now.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I know how to get to the home page. I just don't know how to get to the information.
Also, if we could get information about Ms. Kling, former FSA, who is the Deputy Administrator for the loan programs. There has been a discrimination charge that she raised, and it was the whole incident about the hangman's noose on the wall. I don't know if that person was elevated or reprimanded or fired, but I do know she has raised that complaint.
I have seen that verifiedher complaint. I don't know what decision has been made.
If you don't have the information now because we have overextended our time so, but we want it on the record that that complaint has been registered. We don't know if any recommendation or reprimand has been made to the employee who was responsible for putting the hangman's noose on the wall for intimidation. We need to know that.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. Before we dismiss this panel, I want to thank all of you for your patience today, as well as your forthcoming answers and your commitment to continuing to work on this problem to see that it is resolved.
As I have expressed, I am very concerned about any continuing discrimination by anybody in any Government agency, but particularly in the Department of Agriculture, which is so important to rural America and to my constituents, and Ms. Clayton's and Mr. Baca's constituents as well.
Do you have an additional question?
Mr. BACA. If I could resume the time.
Mr. GOODLATTE. You are out of time. If you have one more question, go ahead with that. And any others we will submit in writing.
Mr. BACA. Earlier, when I askedthe statement in reference to the individuals, Ms. Bryson, you stated that the foreclosures are halted if OCR accepts the farmers' complaint. What does this mean by ''accepts the complaint of discrimination''?
Ms. BRYSON. The Office of Civil Rights has a process by which complaints are submitted, and when they are opened or accepted by the Office of Civil Rightswhen a complaint is opened and accepted by the Office of Civil Rights, it means the Office of Civil Rights is investigating it.
And Mr. Gallegos, do you want to elaborate on that?
Mr. GALLEGOS. Mr. Chairman, I think Ms. Bryson has just covered the question to the extent that we can.
Mr. GOODLATTE. If Mr. Baca has any follow-up questions to that or additional questions
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BACA. Can I ask one final question on behalf of the Puerto Ricans that are not here?
Mr. GOODLATTE. One final question and then the rest in writing.
Mr. BACA. Mr. Little, I understand that the FSA made some mistakes on some hurricane-related disaster loans to Puerto Ricansabout 700. Do I understand correctly that the FSA made mistakes in approval and now accepts these funds to be returned 4 years after the fact at the threat of foreclosure? That is question one.
And are we punishing farmers for FSA mistakes?
Mr. LITTLE. I am familiar with the issue. It was investigated by the Office of Inspector General. There were some findings made. We are still in the process, I believe, of determining exactly what we are going to do with the individuals that do hold the money back; and we are trying to work with the State office, you know, to minimize the impact. We realize that there could be a lot of farmers that may have gotten a loan that shouldn't have gotten a loan, but it is still under investigation. Most of it is still under investigation, and I believe some indictments have been made or are in the process.
Mr. BACA. Thank you very much.
And thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to ask and I will submit the rest.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman, and we will hold up for the submission of written questions.
And again I thank all the members of the panel. I reiterate my concern for this problem. I want to thank you for your ongoing efforts to correct it, and also to reiterate my point that anybody who is engaged in any fraudulent activity herenobody is purporting that I am aware of that anybody was intended to benefit anybody who indeed was truly not intending to farm and discriminated by the Department in attempting to receive assistance. And if you could provide the information that I had requested earlier and Mr. Cooksey had requested earlier with regard to that, we would very much appreciate it.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And again we thank the panel and we will now go onto the next panel.
We would now invite to the table Mr. Ben Burkett, a farmer from Petal, MS; Mr. Lupe Garcia, a farmer from Las Cruces, NM, and Ms. Dorothy Monroe Wise, a farmer from Whitakers, NC.
It is my understanding that Mr. Edward Pennick is here to read the testimony of Mr. Burkett. Without objection by any member of the committee, we will allow Mr. Pennick to do that. Mr. Burkett has been subpoenaed away from the hearing, so he has a very legitimate reason for not being here.
Let's go ahead and start with Mr. Pennick. And I would remind all of you that your written statements will be made a part of the record, and we would ask that you limit your oral statements to 5 minutes.
And if his statement exceeds that, then hit the high points, Mr. Pennick.
STATEMENT OF BEN BURKETT, FARMER, PETAL, MS, PRESENTED BY EDWARD PENNICK
Mr. PENNICK. Thank you Mr. Chairman. I come on behalf of Ben Burkett, a member of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and a third-generation black farmer, who was subpoenaed to testify today in a B case in the black farmers lawsuit on behalf of a farmer in Mississippi.
First, I want to correct the misconception that the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit will significantly change the situation in which black farmers find themselves. Our preliminary research indicates that a significant minority, if not a majority, of those who receive settlements in both the class A and B either have been forced out of farming or are heirs of deceased farmers. Even those farmers who are receiving settlements are not impacted to the point where the settlement would improve their chances of remaining on the land. The lawsuit calls for no real structural changes within the USDA.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Quite frankly, I believe too much attention has been paid to the lawsuit, and it has become a distraction for the real problem, which is the need for structural change within the Department of Agriculture. Ben wanted to focus his testimony on one area and then make some recommendations.
In the 2002 farm bill, Congress increased authorizationthe funding level for the 2501 program to $25 million by directing resources to organizations and education institutions with the demonstrated experience and ability to reach and assist African-American farmers. This program has been transferred numerous times among the agencies of the Department. Most recently it went to CSREES.
This program needs a stable home at USDA and a leader who knows the minority farm community. We believe that if it has to be increased, the Small Farms Program is the most appropriate place to assure that the program is well managed and open to those whom it was designated to serve. Our farm programs, by their very structure, benefit single commodity producers more than other producers. Small farmers need a farm program and perhaps a single agency that are designed to support their diversified production needs. Congress and the administration should work with small farmers to consider possibly new programs and services that serve this growing sector of U.S. agriculture.
Recommendations: The following recommendations are made to correct structural inequities and assure fast service to minority farmers:
Leadership and accountability: Change of leadership in farm programs, removing those who have long been part of the problem. Replace them with leaders who will train employees in their mission, set incentives for them in their interaction with farmers, measure results and hold them immediately accountable for any inequities in service.
USDA transparency: Implement the provisions of the 2002 farm bill that require USDA agencies to report at the national, State and county levels the participation rates of women and minority farmers compared to other farmers in each program of the Department that serves farmers. Establish a system that details participation in multiple programs of the Department classified by race, gender and farm size. Institute a ''request for service'' receipt to be provided whenever a request by a farmer is made, denied or not met at a particular time.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Reform USDA of county committees: The county committee system must be reformed, replaced or abolished. The Department should begin this reform by implementing the provisions of the 2002 farm bill that requires timely reporting of county committee election participation and results by race and gender and provide for fair conduct of elections and handling of ballots. The system of appointing nonvoting minorities should be ended. FSA should instead demonstrate that it can conduct fair elections and assure fair representation of all farmers on county committees without the need for appointing minority advisors. Every State needs to establish new procedures to determine who is the eligible to vote and to remove from the lists those who are no longer eligible to vote. FSA should report to Congress the cost of operating the county committee system and justify that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Implementation of programs of the 2002 farm bill and beyond: Congress should require USDA agencies to review and invite public comment on possible discriminatory impacts in regulations that are issued. Congress should evaluate the programs it had established to determine if they really meet the needs of small and minority farmers. Congress and the administration should work with small farmers to consider a program and possibly an agency designed to serve the needs of minorities and other small farmers. Hearings on these and other ideas should be held well before the next farm bill debate.
Recommendations concerning the Minority Farmers Outreach and Technical Assistance Program: Due to delay and passage of the fiscal year 2003 appropriations, USDA and CSREES should immediately allocate $3 million in fiscal year 2002 funds for the minority farmers outreach program to continue current grants without interruption until a new grant cycle can be set in place. We are still waiting on RFPs for this program after almost a year. The program, which has been moved from agency to agency, needs a permanent home with a clear and identifiable and accountable program leader. No less than the current House agricultural appropriations level of $8.2 million should be provided for the fiscal year 2003 appropriations. For fiscal year 2004 this committee should strongly support full appropriations of $25 million for the program. Congress should maintain oversight of the program and assure that in the future grants are multiyear, provided to community-based organizations and minority-serving institutions with proven track records to serve the minority farmer. Congress should make clear to the administration that new authority that allows other agencies to contribute funds to outreach and contracts is designed to supplement and not reduce the need for full congressional appropriation of authorized funds. For years, minority farmers have not received equitable outreach for many programs. The authority to allow coordination with other programs is designed to assure that minority farmers are adequately served with outreach on every program of the Department.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To date and in the past, we have been very critical of the USDA, and I think rightly so. However, I contend that Congress itself, by not fully funding 2501, opens itself to question whether it is truly committed to helping African-American farmers.
This is a piece of legislation that only calls for $25 million for outreach and education. This is a proven program. This program has worked. Tuskegee University and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives have conducted research that shows that this programin the areas where this program operates, there has been a decrease in the rate of lawsuits. So it is a program that works.
And out of $180 billion farm bill we only ask for 25 million. And this has never been fully funded. So again I think this calls into question Congress's commitment to make sure that African-American farmers remain on the land.
Mr. GOODLATTE. You need to summarize your testimony.
Mr. PENNICK. I think that is a good place to stop.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Burkett appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Garcia, welcome.
STATEMENT OF LUPE L. GARCIA, FARMER, LAS CRUCES, NM
Mr. GARCIA. Good afternoon, Chairman and Ranking Member Clayton and your colleagues on the distinguished subcommittee. My name is Lupe Garcia and I am from Las Cruces, New Mexico. I am a lifelong farmer, and my family has been in the area for a long time, since before the United States had been created back in the 1500's. We have farms.
I am the president of the Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers of America, Inc. We are a former nonprofit corporation to service our Hispanic farmers' needs. And I also have long been working, for almost 13 years, on this civil rights since they started occurring to our family.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Back then, in 1989, I started writing letters to Senator Pete Domenici, and also I directed the Hispanic Corporation to go into a lawsuit to file against the USDA. I am the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.
With that, I want toI have about 18 farmers that came with me from Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California. There are others in Florida, Washington, Illinois and Pennsylvania. But there is a total of 23,000 Hispanic farmers in the United States.
With that, I also want to introduce Lourdes Gonzalez. She is my counterpart from California. She is the president of the Latino Farmers of California Association. They have approximately 400 members. Also, you can direct questions to her after my little talk.
What I want to say today, I just want to say that my story as to how I was discriminatedmy family was discriminated. We started financing with FmHA in 1981. We got loans in about 1983. Later on, we had some problems with disasters, freezes and flooding and stuff like that. They did not want to give us any more refinancing. We were operating without any operating credit. In other words, we were operating out of cuff, you know, and they just literally bled us to death.
But I want to tell you the story about that I had a white prophet come to me in 1990. This white prophet was one of my rich Anglo farmers that came to me and told me, you know, Lupe, your farm is going to be mine surely somehow. And, lo and behold, it became true. In 1999 I was foreclosed and he took over the farms.
And he got a guaranteed loan. We were applying for a guaranteed loan, my dad, myself and my brother Gilbert. We were unable to get refinancings to lengthen our mortgages so we could be a viable partnership. We were farming under a partnership structure.
But anyway, this is one of the things that needs to be straightened out in the Farm Service Agency. The committees that serve thecall them the county committees, these are controlled by the ''good old boy'' system in each area. And throughout the farming side of the United States, you find this. All minorities have suffered this scrutiny whereby the controlling families, if they want youwhatever you got, they want it. They will have it sooner or later. They control the markets. They control the financing. They control the legal system. They control the judges.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, you know, I was a diplomat and I forgot to mention this, I served as a visiting professor with Oregon State University in Central and South America in the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. I lectured in Spanish. I am bilingual. Like I said, I have a Masters. And people doing theses under me, research theses in pesticide research in each of the countries. I had 25 to 26 counterparts that were working with me in each country.
But anyway what I wanted to say, these county committees, once, you knowand that is one thing that needs to be straightened out of the farm service system, the way they select these people. We need to include minorities, small farmers.
You know, the equity that I lost alsoand that is the important thing; I had equity in my farm of $2.4 million, and I lost my farm because of one and they sold it for a debt of $175,000. I had over 50 percent equity. This committee took away my equity just because the agency overcollateralized their loans.
They were always overcollateralized since we started, and at the end we were trying to sell a portion of the farms to save one of the farms, but they did not let us do this. They wanted us out of business. They wanted our land. So we filed the discrimination complaint in 1998 and they foreclosed on us 2 months later. As you can see, they do not follow the rules they've got in their books.
And as they stated to you, how we hadn't filed for the suit yet or anything; we filed just the complaint, and just because we were the first to complain from New Mexico, they foreclosed on us.
We had an inspector go in there. He wrote an affidavit that our case was under investigation, but the judge did not listen. He went and foreclosed and had the sale on January 1999. And then we had some postponement; but then he ruled against us again, and he wouldn't hear the facts that we had under investigation and that we had those rights, you know.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I was a diplomat in Central and South America. I did not represent the United States in this way. I always represented that all of us, no matter what color we are, where we were born from, sex or anything, we were all equal in America and we have equal rights. But when I came back here and started farming with my family, I saw that this was not true, especially when you get working against a county supervisor that is controlled by the county committee. And especially if you rub him the wrong way, pretty soon they start working against you, and start working against you like markets, financing and everything, and slowly but surely, they push you out of business; and then they will acquire what they want, your land and everything you got.
You know, this has to change and that is why we filed the suit. We haveour law firm, as you know, is Howrey, and they have a real good reputation. They are fighters, and they know what they go after; and they will be there until the end, until we get these changes.
And also we need to get reimbursed for our losses. I am sad to say that, but you know, my family lost their livelihoodmyself, my brother, my father, my kids. I could not educate them properly because they would not give them loans to go to school at universities because we were in bankruptcy. And I had to go into chapter 7. I had to go into chapter 7 to save my house because they would have had my house and my brother's house. And luckily I negotiated the house, because my father's house was lost when they foreclosed. Luckily, I was able to negotiate a deal with the buyers, but it has been hell for me and all our families.
But anyway I wanted you to know that we allHispanics have lots of stories like this. They continue to foreclose on all of my counterparts throughout the Southwest without regard to the rules, without regard to the rules of the filing of the complaint, and just because we are Hispanic. Mainly, they were trying to scare us, but you know it is not right.
We have the same rights, and I ask you here in Congress to please do something for all minorities. We all have the same problems. We need to have these handbooks or regulations changed. All they do is add onto the old regulations. Anybody can go there. And if they want to help you, they can help you; if they want to defeat you, they will do it.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Garcia, thank you, we appreciate it. I need to hold everybody to a reasonable amount of time, and you have now exceeded twice the time limit.
Mr. GARCIA. Thank you for the chance you gave me to speak. And you can direct your questions to me and Lourdes.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Garcia appears at the conclusion of the hearing; supplemental material is on file with the committee.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
Ms. Wise, welcome. And we are pleased to have your testimony.
STATEMENT OF DOROTHY J. MONROE WISE, FARMER, WHITAKERS, NC
Ms. WISE. Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Mrs. Clayton and members of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, on behalf of my husband and me we thank you for the opportunity to tell you how the United States Department of Agriculture has injured our family.
As I tell you what happened to my husband and me, be advised that we are not the only small family farmers suffering at the hands of racist and sexist employees of the USDA. Yours is an awesome responsibility to listen to your constituents' many concerns and to respond with appropriate oversight and action. My testimony today will focus on three distinct points.
The personal experiences of my husband and me with USDA is one; why we chose to opt out of the Pigford v. Veneman class action lawsuit and become lead plaintiffs in a new class action lawsuit against the USDA called Wise v. Veneman, No. 2; and what the U.S. Congress and the USDA can do immediately to address the past and ongoing wrongdoings perpetrated by unlawful and often unscrupulous discriminators.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Upon the conclusion of my testimony, I will be happy to answer any questions. Those questions I cannot answer may be directed to my legal counsel, attorney Stephon J. Bowens, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers' Land Loss Prevention Project and his co-counsel, attorney Dawn Battiste, the managing attorney for the Land Loss Prevention Project.
My personal experiences with the U.S. Department of Agriculture goes like this:
Once again, my name is Dorothy J. Monroe Wise. I am an African-American woman and a small family farmer. I have been farming for approximately 12 years. My husband and I currently cultivate 150 acres in Whitakers, NC. Our farm is located in Nash County where we now raise swine, grow soybeans, hay, peanuts and sweet potatoes.
There was a time when my husband and I thought that we would never obtain the land that we currently farm. In June 1991, my husband and I went to the Nash County Farmers Home Administration office. While there, we met Mr. Sydney Long, the Nash County Supervisor for Farm Loan Programs. During this encounter with Mr. Long, we advised him that we were interested in obtaining a farm from the inventory maintained by USDA. We disclosed to him that we were aware of an inventoried farm that had been advertised by USDA for $150,000. We asked Mr. Long for a loan application and he responded by telling us that there were no applications available for loan processing. He went on to say that he would forward applications to us once they arrived. By the spring of 1992, the application still had not arrived.
So my husband and I went to the Farm Home Agency offices in Washington, DC, and Maryland seeking a loan application. Each time, we were advised that we would have to obtain the application from the Nash County, North Carolina, Farm Home Agency office because the inventory property was located in that district.
After multiple telephone calls, letters and other acts of persistence, Mr. Long finally sent us a loan application to complete in November 1992, some 17 months after our original request. My husband and I completed the loan application and the accompanying packet in January 1993 and submitted it to Mr. Long.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Upon receiving the completed application, Mr. Long advised us that the inventoried farm we sought had to be reappraised and readvertised. He also informed us that a new application would have to be completed because he was required to open the bidding process for the inventory farm to everyone.
Although we had grave reservations about this process, we completed the new application and returned it to Mr. Long. From late January through December 1993, Mr. Long would tell us that our application was incomplete and that we needed to provide more information. Each time we complied with his request, he would create a new obstacle for us to overcome.
In January 1994, over 2 1/2 years after our initial request for a loan application, Mr. Long agreed that it was complete. In February 1994, Mr. Long informed us that our application had been denied because of a poor credit history. Mr. Long then proceeded to return the application to us.
Devastated by this decision, having put our plans to live on the farm in Nash County, North Carolina, on hold for almost 3 years, we appealed Mr. Long's denial decision. The National Appeals Staff overturned Mr. Long's decision to deny us an extension of credit because he had not properly accounted for our credit history. Mr. Long agreed to extend the credit once his decision was overturned. He then refused to give us priority consideration as socially disadvantaged farmers, a female farmer and/or a beginning farmer and unilaterally placed our application in one of the lowest priority categories. Again, we appealed his decision regarding our placement in the priority position and, once again, he was overturned.
In December 1994, my husband and I were required to participate in a drawing for the inventoried farm with another female socially disadvantaged farmer. Our names were drawn out of the hat used by Mr. Long. He advised us that we had 30 days to complete the application for the purchase of the inventoried farm. In January 1995, we provided Mr. Long with a completed application and 5-year farm and home plan. Mr. Long held our application for more than 9 months before he began to process it.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC He began processing the application only after we wrote Congresswoman Eva Clayton, Congressman David Funderburke and Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrist. Then, in late September 1995, Mr. Long told us that there were no funds available to purchase the farm. He informed us that if we wanted to be on the farm, we needed to lease it. He required us to pay approximately $3,500 to lease the farm.
In January 1996, we wrote Mr. Cook, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Small Business Development for USDA. We complained of the problems we had with Mr. Long in obtaining applications, getting loans and acquiring the inventoried farm. Mr. Cook summarily wrote us back in February 1996 stating that because we were eventually awarded the farm, he was closing the file without an investigation.
In 1996, we contacted the State Director's office regarding our loan application. To our dismay, we were advised that we had never filed an application for loan funds. After being informed of the problem, the State Director miraculously found $139,000 for our use to purchase the inventoried farm. Unfortunately, during the intervening 5 years since we sought to purchase the farm, significant water damage had destroyed the roofs of the existing structures on the farm.
In January 1997, my husband and I recounted our ordeal to USDA Secretary Daniel Glickman at a listening session in Washington, DC. At that meeting, we complained of Mr. Long's ongoing discriminatory actions. We informed the Secretary that Mr. Long had changed the terms of the loan from 40 years down to 15 years without our consent. The State Director for North Carolina again met with us immediately after the listening session and made arrangements to have our loan notes corrected.
In February 1997, the State Director intervened to provide us with our first operating loan. The loan had been provided for $170,000.
In April 1997, my husband traveled to Indiana to place a deposit on the hogs that we would use to begin our small hog production operation consistent with our 5-year farm and home plan. Despite the State Director's order to release the approved loan, Mr. Long did not give us the $170,000 until September 1997. By this time, the hogs were fully grown and were ready for mating. The hogs produced 500 offspring that all died. Because we received the funds so late, the hogs did not have an adequate facility to deliver and care for their offspring.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The contractors scheduled to replace the interior of the dilapidated buildings on the inventory farm in May of the same year, but could not reschedule the repairs until the spring of the following year as a result of the delayed receipt of loan funds.
Our farming operation has yet to recover from Mr. Long's intentional acts of discrimination, and we have been left with the unforeseen debt associated with Mr. Long's delays. In 1998, we were allowed to transfer our accounts with the Farm Service Agency to Martin County, North Carolina. We now have an African-American supervisor, Mr. Carl Barr. To our knowledge, Mr. Long still manages the Nash County office, and we have to drive across four county lines, a distance of over 90 miles round trip to get assistance.
The physical and emotional distress the Farm Service Agency has caused me and my family is immense. As many of you are aware, Pigford v. Veneman is a class action lawsuit that resulted in a settlement and consent decree being issued in April 1999. The Pigford class included African-American farmers who farmed or attempted to farm between January 1, 1981, and December 31, 1996, that believe they had been discriminated against by USDA officials on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
While the farmers in our community were being told that it would be as easy as tying your shoe to obtain relief from the Pigford consent decree, the actual wording of the consent decree gave my husband and me grave reservations. After consulting with our present counsel, we made the decision to opt out of the Pigford class settlement.
Unfortunately, the United States Congress, the Federal courts and the attorneys handling the Pigford case hailed it as the savior of black farmers in the media. This widely held perception of the case would be proven to be far from the truth. The high denial rates, the lack of adequate change in USDA policies and procedures and the failure of the USDA and its Office of Civil Rights and Office of General Counsel to prevent ongoing acts of discrimination and protect the black farmers against retaliation demonstrate the shortcomings of the Pigford consent decree.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The primary goal of the Pigford consent decree was to pay black farmers quickly without much decision about how USDA would change its practices to ensure zero tolerance for acts of discrimination and the employees who perpetuate those illegal acts.
In contrast, the Wise v. Veneman national class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of African-American farmers and women farmers who address the problems that Pigford failed to reach. While it is true that the named lead plaintiffs in Wise seek monetary damages as compensation for our individual cases, this case has been filed to address the systematic nature of discrimination that pervades USDA.
Our attorneys advised us early on that the goal of this case is to require USDA to implement meaningful change in the manner in which it deals with African-American and women farmers. Upon information and belief, few, if any, employees at USDA had been removed from their positions for violations of family farmers' civil rights.
The Wise lawsuit seeks to enjoin the USDA from continuing to operate its federally funded system that rewards wrongdoers for punishing, terrorizing and otherwise disenfranchising women and racial minorities. The new suit would appoint a Special Master to oversee the change necessary to ensure that when I, as an African-American women farmer, walk into any office of any Farm Service Agency in the United States of America, I will be treated with the same dignity, respect and opportunity that white males have enjoyed since the founding of this country and the inception of the USDA.
The Wise case offers the opportunity to address the fact that county supervisors and/or farm loan specialists and county committees still meet to discuss the fate of African-American and women farmers. The farm loan specialists and the county committee members are predominantly white males. African-Americans, women and other minorities are often added to the county committees as advisors without the authority to vote. The farm loan specialists are given unfettered control over the data that is input into the DALR$ program that informs USDA whether a farmer can cash flow and, thus, whether the farmer should be foreclosed upon. Moreover, the same discretion is afforded to these same individuals who make improper credit decisions and who illegally delay applications as in my case.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If the United States Congress can legislate the change necessary at USDA and the USDA would implement the changes necessary to provide equal opportunity and access to all, there would be no need for the various national class action lawsuits against USDA.
The United States Congress must do several things to protect African-American women and minority farmers in the United States. First, the United States Congress must pass legislation that removes the barriers to disciplining and/or terminating the Federal career employees that violate the civil rights of United States citizens and residents. Such legislation should also include provisions that address the status of individuals who are allegedly deemed quasi-Federal employees like the former county supervisors at FSA.
Second, the United States Congress should strengthen title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure that when the Federal Government discriminates against the citizenry, the Federal Government will be held accountable for its actions by establishing a private right of action for affected citizens.
I have been advised that the Federal Government believes that it is not a recipient of Federal funds; thus, the Federal Government's position is that it is immune from title IV complaints. The Government holds on to this argument despite the fact that each Federal agency has adopted and incorporated the protections of the title IVof title IV into their policies and procedures.
Third, the United States Congress must pass legislation to establish a national moratorium against the USDA-initiated family farm foreclosure for a period of 3 years. A number of my coplaintiffs and thousands of small family farmers are being foreclosed upon despite the USDA's public statement that it has a goal of maintaining African-American women, small and minority farmers.
While the USDA has a policy of not foreclosing against Pigford class members that have a pending claim, the USDA is still proceeding with foreclosures against farmers in the judicial and/or administrative process for civil rights complaints. Equally as important, thousands of family farmers are suffering from natural disasters such as flood and drought, as well as economic loss due to historically low commodity prices. Hence, a 3-year moratorium on foreclosures must be initiated.
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Fourth, the United States Congress should pass a 3-year moratorium on the USDA administrative offsets for delinquent borrowers and the United States Treasury Department for Federal tax refund offsets for delinquent USDA borrowers. While the Federal Debt Collection Act of 1996 does not preclude the USDA and the Treasury from taking such action, a formative statement by the U.S. Congress would reinforce the agencies' ability and resolve to protect its customers. Offset funds are funds that could maintain a small farmer on the brink of folding and allow him or her another year to turn around an undercapitalized farming operation. Therefore, instituting a 3-year moratorium on administrative offsets would allow farmers to regain their financial independence.
Fifth, the United States Congress should pass legislation that requires the USDA to monitor its civil rights performance similar to the provisions of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The imposition of HMDA-type requirements would provide the United States Congress with competent evidence of discrimination or nondiscrimination of the USDA. Having outlined several goals for congressional action that would diminish the necessity for continued litigation against USDA, I must now turn my attention to affirmative things that the USDA can do to address the rampant discrimination within the agency.
First, the USDA must implement stringent policies to address past and present acts of discrimination by its employees and those who are recipients of its funds. Persons who have hadwho have and who continue to discriminate, must be disciplined and/or terminated. If these individuals are allowed to remain
Mr. GOODLATTE. Ms. Wise, how much more do you have?
Ms. WISE. Just one little paragraph.
They should surely not be allowed to have contract or control over the loans or series of the customers whom they have discriminated against.
The USDA should establish a Department of Minority Affairs with sufficient funds to address the needs of minority farmers who have been unable to receive appropriate assistance from the local county Farm Service Agency.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you very much, Ms. Wise.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I want to thank all the members of the panel. Your testimony is very distressing and we will have a series of questions.
I first would like to ask Mr. Garcia, is Mr. Tyn E. Davis here with you today?
Mr. GARCIA. I think he was, but I think he went to the Hispanic Conference. They had a meeting over there.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I am sorry to hear that. I am going to read part of his declaration into the record.
In April 1998, he says he went to see Bill McAnally, his FSA loan officer, to tell him that he would be late with his payment because of fungus and the fact that he had to destroy his crop. And he said, Mr. McAnally was very understanding and told me that it would not be a problem. Upon leaving the FSA office, a Hispanic farmer walked in who had trouble understanding English. Mr. McAnally called out to me and asked if I spoke Spanish. I told him I did, and I assisted the Hispanic farmer. Mr. McAnally asked me how I knew Spanish so well and that is when I informed him that I was half-Hispanic, that my mother was Mexican.
After Mr. McAnally learned that I was half-Hispanic, his attitude changed towards mechanged drastically. It is widely known among Hispanic farmers in El Paso that Mr. McAnally hates Hispanics.
In late May 1998, I received a letter from Mr. McAnally that he was foreclosing on my farm because I did not make my loan payment on time. He had just told me less than 2 months before, when he believed that I was an Anglo farmer, that it was all right for me to be late with my loan payment. Now that he knew I was half-Hispanic, he was foreclosing on my farm.
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My father offered to pay the debt, but Mr. McAnally said it was too late because the foreclosure process had already started. I complained to the head of the FHA office in Texas that I was being discriminated against by Mr. McAnally and the FSA office because I am Hispanic.
When the truck arrived to repossess my equipment, I told the driver what was being done to me, and he said he would come back in a week and, in the meantime, I should get myself a bankruptcy attorney. That was the best advice I got.
I did just that, and I was able to save my farm and equipment from being repossessed.
I believe I was discriminated against by Mr. McAnally and the USDA office.
Mr. Garcia, I hope you convey to Mr. Davisand this is only one example of many that we will request specifically that the Department review this declaration and report back to the committee what their findings were and what actions were taken with regard to the allegations made about the FSA officer there. And it is nowif there is no objection, it is my intention to yield the balance of my time to the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Conyers.
Mr. CONYERS. I don't have any questions.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, if the gentleman has some later, I will reserve that time for that purpose.
I now recognize the gentlewoman from North Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Chairman, if you hadn't done that, I was going to do that, but thank you for extending that courtesy.
The chairman is right. The testimony is very disturbing. And I was going to let Mr. Baca start off, and then I will go further because I know he wanted to get in some extra questions.
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Baca, you can go ahead.
Mr. BACA. Thank you very much, Eva.
One of the first questions that I have, and I guess to Mr. Garcia, do you feel that the foreclosure that occurred in 1999 was a sabotage, a setup to you personally?
Mr. GARCIA. Yes. They had already decided. It was a conspiracy between the ''good old boys'' group, you know, and like I said, they told me in 1990 and 10 years later or 9 years later they foreclosed and his son took possession. His son got a guaranteed loan for $600,000, which me or my brother or my father could not get with equity. His son did not have to produce any equity, and the guaranteed loan was given to him by the Farm Service Agency; you know, they guaranteed it through the bank.
Mr. BACA. Are there quite a few cases, to your knowledge, especially in New Mexico, where a majority of the farms were owned by Hispanics that are now owned by non-Hispanics in the area?
Mr. GARCIA. Yes. The majority of the ones being foreclosed are taken over by the whites.
Mr. BACA. Isn't it similar to what I have described earlier with the Guadalupe land grant where it is just another technique of taking over the land?
Mr. GARCIA. Yes.
Mr. BACA. One point it used to be done where Hispanics were not knowledgeable in the language and so
Mr. GARCIA. In the 1950's and 1940's, there were numerous Hispanics farming. Now in the valley, you can say there is only a handful.
Mr. BACA. I am familiar with New Mexico. I am from New Mexico. My parents used to own a farm, but they no longer own those farms, and somebody else owns those farms; and when I go around the valley in that area, it is predominantly white. They have taken over because they had the finances, and I know my parents did not have finances during that period of time, so they ended up selling their land because they couldn't obtain the loan.
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One of the questions that I have is, what can be done now to remedy what happened? I know that we can't go back and change everything else, but what can be done in terms of even a handbook of regulations or changes? And that applies to any of the panelists out there.
As we heard, what needs to be done? Does anybody have any ideas in terms of what needs to be done to correct some of the inequity and to make sure there is no retaliation to individuals who filed the complaints prior to, and will be continued to be allowed, to not only own their homes and make sure there is no foreclosure on any individuals?
Mr. GARCIA. What needs to be changed is the way the county committees are selected. The same family groups of family and friends run these committees. They replace one another. There may be a daughter or a son, and then they get a father or an uncle or cousin, or stuff like this, or a friend; and they never have loosened up control. The same white folks control these committees.
These committees are not only for Farm Service Agency, but also for the banking committees. The Farm Credit System also has the committees, and they are the same individuals and they control everything, you know.
Mr. BACA. Can I ask the same question to the other individuals in reference to the makeup of the committee. Do you feel the makeup of the committee that they have maybe vested interest or friends or others, or nepotism or something that occurs, that sit on these committees?
Mr. PENNICK. I agree with that, and it is our contention that if something is not changed with the committee system, it would be best just to abolish the system altogether, because it really serves no purpose as it is currently constituted.
Mr. BACA. And what about the expectation of Latinos in California?
Ms. GONZALEZ. Good afternoon. I am the president of the California Latino Agricultural Association in California. I represent roughly 300, and over, growers in the vicinity of Santa Cruz County, which is Monterey County, San Bernadino, Santa Cruz County and San Luis Obispo County.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My opinion in respect toand this is firsthand experience, where I sat in on the local Monterey County committee meetingsit is true what everybody says here. Basically, you are sitting in front of a committee who is developed of all Anglo-American farmers. They dictate, they make choices on these loans, who gets a loan and who doesn't.
And this happened back in 1995 when I first formed the organization of the California Latino Agricultural Association. I discovered discrimination not only in the loan processing, benefit program, and also in the conservation program where we are entitled to receive services and technical assistance. The co-op extension is another one.
But my advice is that, through this litigation, we can eliminate the local county committee, the whole outfit of it. It would be best for the FSA office. You have got the discrimination in that body as well as the directors of those offices.
I can say, firsthand experience for my family, Vivian Soffa, who is the executive director of the Monterey County office, has discriminated against my family. She has put my family out of business, 150 acres of raspberries and strawberries, which we gradually increased from 1978 to 1995, is no longer there. We employed over 200, sometimes 300, employees. We offered those jobs to those people. It is gone.
The lease was bought out by the biggest companies locally in the area. We lost it. So I can elaborate more on this. We need a whole day.
But my experience has been not only from 1995 to present, but from 1978 to present when we first started going into FSA to apply for operational loans. There has been a lot of petitions and recommendations submitted by our association members to all of your FSA offices.
We actually helped the FSA office to develop an outreach program out of our office for their processing. We sat down with over 400 growers and submitted 400 applications to the FSA office because they didn't have the manpower back in 1995 to process all those loansit was volunteer workand the experience I received from that is that no matter how much effort we put into it to help the FSA office in Monterey County to process those loans fast enough, it just didn't happen.
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It took them over 2 years to approve those loans. And my family, firsthand, they were given the benefit which is in that grant program, they had to repay back 6 months after they received the check. They had no farm, no equity. How can you repay $25,000 individually? It is very hard.
So the experience of an Anglo farmer to Hispanic farmer, it is quite a lot of difference. We had about 100 feet from our farm, an Anglo farmer who got $35,000 with just submitting one document. It took us 2 years to get in that program, $25,000, and had to repay it back. That is not fair.
Mr. BACA. Part of the problem also is that the application process of the loan is done subjectively. If your color is different, there is a possibility you may get it versus someone who is African-American, Hispanic, native American or Asian?
Ms. GONZALEZ. Minorities have the worst servicing.
Mr. BACA. I know you looked at the committee makeup and Ihopefully, Mr. Chairman, we can look at the type of committee makeups, because it appears in the hearingMrs. Wise's testimony, as well, in terms of that loan processit seems like individuals were basically, you know, at what point they could have been sabotaged.
And to look at a blueprint and looking at tagging or looking at the possibility of purchasing your particular property or others, if in fact you were foreclosed and weren't able to get it even if it was assessed at one point being at a market of $150,000 and then later coming back and saying your application was not processed, it seems like something is wrong with this system here. Because they look at the value of the property and they look at the blueprint that is being very high, and they know very well that, as minorities, it becomes very difficult, if you don't obtain the loan, that you can't keep up with it. So eventually then, the property ends up being foreclosed, and someone ends up purchasing the property that a lot of us have sweated, fought for and worked so hard to have the same American dream as others.
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In reference to my statement, what do we need to do in that process to change the application process, as wellbesides the committee itselfin the loan, because I know that sometimes the credit rating is bad, when in fact they wouldn't give you the loan. So you go to the creditors, and then the creditors, of course, come back and try to collect like everyone else and yet you are not able to get the FSA loan.
What can be done to change part of this process so that is not also taken in part of the subjective evaluation? Anyone who wants to answer the question.
The gentleman on the side there. State your name.
Mr. CARRILLO. My name is John Carrillo. I was the first minority advisor for the County of Monterey. Sitting on the committees, I was, firsthand, looking at these committees. As an advisor, I did not have a right to voteto listen to the injustice they were doing to a lot of the minority farmers.
When the disaster hit in 1995, there was no Hispanic paperwork. There was no outreach. I was doing all the volunteer outreach there for Hispanic farmers, also Anglo farmers. As I went to an Anglo farmer, his disaster was paid right away, $28,000; another farmer, Hispanic farmer, down the way, was never paid nothing.
I, myself, I am on the declaration here that I went throughI felt being on the committee that things were going to work, at least get something done. There was nothing done for me also. And the real problem is, being on these committeesI was on that committee, I did 8 years on the committee. And I called back about a couple months ago; the same people are on those committees.
What has to be done is give a term limit, even just a 2-year term limit. These people stay on these committeeslike Mr. Lupe says, they stay on, stay on, and it is very hard to make a change. The change has to be done at the bottom level or get away from it, and nothing will be done unless there is a change on the bottom.
Page 95 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BACA. Any suggestions or comments from any one of you that you think we should bring to this subcommittee or any other areas we think we should address?
Mr. WISE. My name is Ed Wise and I am from, Whitakers, North Carolina. And I don't know about the other States, but in the State of North Carolina, there is 100 counties, the major problem is that 90 percent of the money is decided who is going to get it before it is ever sent down from the Federal Government. The ''good old boy'' meets with the loan officer and the counties decide. And most of those counties, the same guys get the money every year. They say it is given out on a first-come-first-served basis, but it can't be when you have five farmers, big farmers, big white farmers gets the money every year.
And it is even worse now than it was before this first lawsuit was filed, because those county agents are mad because they feel black farmers got $50,000. The only reason why we are still on the farm is because the State Director moved us out of Nash County under a white county agent and put us four counties away under a black county agent. If it wasn't for that, he would have foreclosed on us 2 years ago and put us out of the farm after he put us into bankrupt. And that is the problem we are having.
Mr. PENNICK. I would like to say, I think the key is really transparency and accountability at the local level. There should be some way to track what goes on in those offices.
That is why we said there should be a request for services and receipt. When the person goes into the office, he is given a receipt that details what he asked for and decisions that were made, and that becomes a part of the public record.
And we think there should be work force diversification. There are not enough minorities in these offices. In South Carolina, for instance, there are no African-American loan officers; and we need to look at diversification in loan offices and put people that look like us and understand us and work with us.
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BACA. Earlier I asked the question of the panel that was here before, and they indicated they made some outreach and some progress. In fact, I even dialed the number, and the first time I dialed the number, of course, the Spanish person answered the phone. And second time, I asked the question how long have you been employed.
And my question to Mr. Garcia is, you know, since you began with your allegations way back in 1981, when you started with your farm
Mr. GARCIA. That is when I started financing with FmHA.
Mr. BACA [continuing.] Were there any Hispanic loan officers or individuals that could speak in Spanish?
Mr. GARCIA. Not as good in the office, no. Currently, there is none there either.
And they say they have these forms for Hispanics; I haven't seen one. I don't need that. I am fluent in both languages. But we have people that come in from Mexico, and they arehave been educated in Spanish only. Those people need thosein those border offices, servicing a lot of Latinos, especially small farmers, they need to have a bilingual person, and also have these forms in Spanish because a lot of times they can't service them; they won'tand they won't take the English ones either, because they don't understand them. So they need help. This needs to be changed.
Another thing that needs to be changed in the system, through your prior question, is their computer system. They are still operating those old DALR$ system computer setups. And, you know, we have now streamlined computers and software that are fast. So we need to get them to change all that into a system that is visual, so that anybody can go in there and audit without any accountabilityhaving to ask permission from the county supervisor or State Director. Because up until now, since Pigford and all that, and our case, I have heard that in that office they have been shredding a lot of the documents. And, you know, this changesthere are reports there and I read some of those reports. I cannot believe the things they say in there. That doesn't come off the field. The GAO needs to get down where the farmers are to the local office and make these audits on these agencies because this isa lot of that is what I call it. Paja is a lie.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. I am going to have to recognize Mrs. Clayton. We have been very generous with the time. I now recognize the gentlewoman from North Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I think the line of questioning is very helpful, and I didn't call for my time.
Mr. Pennick, I like the idea of the receipt of service, and I don't know what we can do about it; but have you spoken to anyone in the administration about that or is this the first encounter?
Mr. PENNICK. This is the first encounter.
Mrs. CLAYTON. There is an administrative procedure by regulation, andbecause you know that well, I would also offer that in addition to bringing it to us and putting it on the record, put it on the record in the administrative procedure and see what happens with that. That is a recommendation coming from the grass roots that here is a way of aiding your transparency procedure by having a receipt of service and request. I think it is very innovative.
Ms. Wise, thank you for your very clear, but disturbing testimony; and also thank you for the recommendations that you made. What is the status of your case?
Mr. BOWENS. Good afternoon. My name is Stephon Bowens, I am one of the lead counsel for the Wise v. Veneman class action, and presently the case is pending. As you know, the Wise case is in the same status, if you will, as the Love case because the twoboth represent issues related to women. So presently, right now, there has been a motion filed by the Government to dismiss the case. The court has not ruled on that, but we believe that the court will rule at least at a minimum in the way that it ruled in the Love case, and the case will continue to proceed.
Mrs. CLAYTON. The administration filed a lawsuit to dismiss the case?
Page 98 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BOWENS. Standard operating procedure for the Department of Justice when a class action is filed, rather than answer the complaint and actually answer the allegations that the farmers in this case have made to go forward with filing a motion to dismiss in an attempt to remove the case from court prior to an actual hearing being heard as it relates to the facts of the case.
Mrs. CLAYTON. In the instance of the Love case that involved women, that same procedure was applied and the court helped the plaintiff.
Mr. BOWENS. And we anticipate that the same will occur.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Is there any contemplation of the consolidation of those two cases?
Mr. BOWENS. There have been discussions of consolidation of those two cases. As of yet, it has not either been required by the court nor have the class participants consented to it.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Some of the recommendation Ms. Wise made in her testimony is part of the basis of the lawsuit. Some of those can be administratively inactive, like a moratorium on foreclosures and some of the other provisions.
I would also advise you, Ms. Wise or whoever, to make the recommendations for the record in the administrative procedure, as they are promulgating new requirements; and also in your correspondence to theback to the administration, so there is evidence that this recommendation wasn't just in a lawsuit, but also was in the normal procedure that allows for input from the public as they promulgate those activities, so no one can say, we never heard of this or we were waiting for this to be litigated and, therefore, we are now withholding. Because that is the problem that Mr. Baca is experiencing with Hispanic farmers, that individually they will allow foreclosures to proceed if an individual makes it; but if you proceed with a class action, until you have been designated as a class, you are precluded from what you have as individual rights.
Page 99 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So my advice is to use every remedy that the law allows for you to make those same points.
Mr. BOWENS. Congresswoman Clayton, with all due respect, we have made thosewe provided a list of 21 things that the administration could do in the interim to effectuate providing assistance and retaining all farmers, not just black farmers, not just women farmers, all minority farmers in a dialog that we had with the Secretary on July 12 of this year, where not only the Secretary was present, but all of her senior staff members as well, including Nancy Bryson, Mr. Gallegos and everyone else.
And during that meeting, we provided them with the language that was necessary to ensure that they could go forward with implementing not only the moratorium on the foreclosures and the moratorium on the administrative offset, but also a moratorium on the administrative offsets, because the language of the debt collection action is not mandatory, but it says that the Secretary may waive.
The Secretary has chosen at this point not to go forward with implementing any of those actions or recommendations.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Is anyone still here from the administration?
Mr. MOORE. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Can you advise us, Mr. Garcia, is there any consideration of the request that has been made?
Mr. GARCIA. Are you addressing me?
Mr. MOORE. With your permission, I can respond to Mrs. Clayton's question.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Go right ahead.
Mr. MOORE. The answer is that we havehave contacted the Treasury Department and we are working with the Treasury Department because our understanding, based on what our counsel has told us, that the Treasury is the controlling authority in the administrative offset process, and we are requesting the authority so that in specific circumstances we may be able to waive that administrative offset authority.
Page 100 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. Let me acknowledge that was Dale Moore who is the chief of staff to the Secretary of Agriculture, Mrs. Veneman, and we thank both him and the Secretary for their diligent work on this issue.
And I think that is going to complete the questioning we have for this panel. I want to thank all of them for their participation in the hearing.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Could he make one final comment?
Mr. GOODLATTE. He can submit that for the record, and we still have yet another panel to hear from.
We will now invite our third and final panel of witnesses to the table. Mr. Gary Grant, founding member of Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, from Tillery, NC; Mr. Tom Burrell, founding member, Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, Covington, TN; Mr. John Zippert, program director, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Land Assistance Fund, Epes, AL; and Mr. Lawrence Lucas, president, Coalition of Minority Employees, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mr. Grant, we will begin with you. Since this is a larger panel, I am going to again remind you all that your full written testimony will be made a part of the record. Do not feel that in order for it to be in the record you have to read every last word of it. And we are going to enforce the 5-minute rule.
So, Mr. Grant, welcome. We find your testimony important and we will start with you.
STATEMENT OF GARY R. GRANT, FOUNDING MEMBER, BLACK FARMERS AND AGRICULTURISTS ASSOCIATION, TILLERY, NC
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRANT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And before you do start my time, sir, I would like to acknowledge my retiring Congresswoman, Mrs. Eva Clayton, and the fine work that she has done on behalf of black farmers, minority farmers, and all farmers and ranchers in the country, and I would like to have that from the citizens of North Carolina and to her credit.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I will add the citizens of Virginia to that list and we will not count that against your time, time well spent.
Mr. GRANT. The opportunity to speak before this historic body may signify nothing as with mine and others' timely and emotional pleadings before the legislative subcommittees on agriculture regarding black farmers and the Civil Rights Program and Farm Programs at USDA.
This is my third appearance, Mr. Chairman, before such a distinguished legislative committee since 1998 seeking justice and fairness for black farmers. Most black farmers like myself come from rural communities where poverty is the infrastructure and racism the tool of governing, and where our desperate existence on small strips of land in the midst of a large land mass owned by whites is controlled and executed by the USDA and the local FSA offices. These offices and their administrators are well funded by public Federal dollars and historically have provided the cutting edge of destruction and, with surgical precision, violent attacks against anyone black who wants to farm.
I have come to think of these appearances as some kind of secret rites of passage to join the real American dream. The invitation to join the conversation and debate in the supreme people's forum requires personal courage, some measure of intelligence and knowledge of the subject matter, appropriate words and decorum.
The school boy in me bids: You are at the seat of protection of individual rights and protection of life and property. Be proud to come and speak out in the sacred place where Government guarantees the right to vote and promotes education of children, safeguards the public health, provides for good roads, supports agriculture progress, and upholds the general welfare.
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But after a couple of these appearances with no measurable results, reality sets in and the story becomes as ancient as creation itself.
You cannot come from the DNA of centuries of American slavery without becoming adept in the ways of the powerful slave master. ''let's see what these black farmers are really up to. Let's determine how long this organization called Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association can run the course of staying together and making a difference. If we give them the runaround long enough, they will eventually grow tired and begin to fight and tear at each other.''
Until this great legislative committee and other legislative committees of the U.S. Congress understand one significant issue, everything I say here on behalf of the black farmers is an exercise in futility and will mostly fall on deaf ears. And this probably goes for whatever anyone else says as well.
The point is, sir and madam, violence, disparity, and a racial caste system in USDA are omnipresent and a fact of life for black farmers and, consequently, all African-Americans. The discrimination and oppression of black farmers is sanctioned by long-held racial customs, by a psychological racial sickness, and apparently by law, since the methods continue and no aggrieving violation seems punishable.
As a result of the struggles of my parents to save their land, we saw these two proud and productive individuals develop high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, Alzheimers, and live out their last few years in a state of psychological trauma and mostly condemnation from their church and their community because they dared to stand up to the U.S. Government.
We hold the USDA and our Farm Service Agency officers responsible for their agonizing deaths.
I could go on and speak to the struggles and agonizing existence of other neighboring farmers in Halifax County, and I can speak for farmers across the country who are an integral part of the racial experiment by USDA and the local FSA to keep not only black farmers, but African-Americans in their place. Such treacherous actions repeated throughout thousands of black farm communities in America, particularly the South, yields a movement more powerful and destructive than 9/11.
Page 103 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let's review the facts: The United States Department of Agriculture has pledged numerous changes, settled a lawsuit with a class of black farmers, and yet discrimination against black farmers continues to this very day.
I want to address very briefly the numbers question that you all have been talking about, the 30,000. Of the 60,000 people who applied in the late claims, 30,000 claims that have been denied are not even claims. Those are people who are seeking permission to join the lawsuit, and they have to first go through a process and prove why they were not filed in a timely manner. They have not even begun the process of track A or track B. That is where the 30,000 people are coming from.
We keep using the figures of 18,000, yet between 1978 and 1992, I believe it was, that over 50 percent of the African-American population farm population in this country disappeared. So you are trying to say that these people do not have a right to seek restitution for what the racist discriminatory practices in local offices did to them? Mr. Chairman, that is not good and it cannot be if this is going to be a country that looks out for its citizens.
Racism should have ended in 1776 when Crispus Atticus died as the first American in the war here.
I have the same five recommendations about a moratorium: Give the farmers their offsets. Stop the IRS. People have to make a living. We keep talking about the influx of people on welfare. We wouldn't be on the welfare if we were allowed to farm the lands that we have in our possession.
The United States Department of Agriculture should remove employees, and you have heard this repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly today, and you will continue to hear it. We met with the Secretary and her staff for a week. And they spent a full day explaining to us about the rights and all for the career employees at USDA. Well, these people are also career employees. They are career farmers. And that is how they make their living and they have a right to do it. And racism in this country should not be the determining factor as to whether one can feed himself, his family, and his community.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When I have in the past, I have told the problems of my family, and, Mr. Chairman and Congresswoman Clayton, 20 years in the administrative process, 25 years in foreclosure, that alone should say to you that something is wrong with the process. Not the fact that discrimination has not been found and proven, but they refused to act on what it is. And one of the agencies that is getting away in here today is the Department of Justice, Mr. Conyers, that we probably need to have someone over there, because this is a conspiracy and the Department of Justice is just as guilty as the United States Department of Agriculture. Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Grant appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you very much, Mr. Grant.
Mr. Burrell, pleased to have you here.
STATEMENT OF TOM BURRELL, FOUNDING MEMBER, BLACK FARMERS AND AGRICULTURALISTS ASSOCIATION, COVINGTON, TN
Mr. BURRELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. To Congresswoman Clayton, to Congressman Conyers, and others on the staff, I bring you greetings from the thriving metropolis of Covington, TN, about 40 miles north of Memphis, TN. I am also a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. And I am also a recovering claimant in the class action lawsuit of Pigford v. Glickman.
I would like to offer a premise and a basis upon which I think a lot of the discussion has centered around today. And that has to do with why I think FSA in general, and the Department of Agriculture in particular, are discriminating againstwhich is not debatableAfrican-American farmers. I think there is a misnomer here, Mr. Chairman, in that we recognize and have ascribed somewhat erroneously the problems of African-American farmers, minority farmers, Hispanic farmers, to being that of discrimination. I think there is credible evidence to show that the issue is not discrimination but it is one of, quote, expropriation, unquote.
Page 105 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC By that, I mean that this Government, via the Department of Agriculture in general and the employees of the Farm Service Agency in particular, have by design decided to expropriate and otherwise take back the land from African-American farmers and other minority groups and return that land back to the descendants of the original plantation owners.
I also maintain that the employees of FSA have also conspired to do, among other things, control the dispensation of a lawsuit which we call now Pigford v. Glickman/Veneman. And I need only to read one line from the consent decree which is under the definition of terms.
And it reads: As it relates to a track A claimant, one standard or threshold of evidence that that claimant has to prove was that of substantial evidence.
It says: ''The term 'substantial evidence' shall mean such relevant evidence as appears in the record before the adjudicator that a reasonable person might accept as appropriate to a conclusion after taking account of other evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that conclusion.''
The obvious question then is raised: Who is going to provide the other evidence that detracts from the conclusion that the farmer raised? Since the adjudicator does not have those records, I think it is reasonable to assume the employees of FSA.
One other point I would like to make. There was a reference to a disturbance of sorts, a rally by black farmers in Brownsville, TN on July 1 of this year. Myself and Mr. Grant were also participants. And one of the reasons we used Brownsville, TN, is that it depicted some statistical data that we think is disturbing. And in the brief minute and a half that I have, I will give you what we think is a conclusion of that statement to support our proposition that African-Americans are the victims of conspiracy.
There are approximately 47 applicants in Hayward County, TN in a lawsuit between Pigford v. Glickman; 47, almost 24, about half, were what we called bona fide farmers. The other 23 were individuals who did not have records or could show that they were, quote unquote, bona fide. About half and half. Of the 24 farmers who had documentary proof that they were doing business with FSA, only two of them received compensation; 23 individuals who did not have proof that they were doing business with FSA, 21 of them did receive compensation.
Page 106 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What we are simply saying is that 92 percent of the individuals in that county that received compensation did not do business according to evidentiary proof with FSA. They paid in effect individualsnot that we are complaining about this, but it proves one other point. The issue that 18,000 African-Americans applied, there are 18,000 farmers, is a misnomer. Like any statistics, you can use numbers to defray the truth. The issue is of the 40 percent of the individuals who were denied, Mr. Chairman, 92 percent of them were, quote unquote, bona fide borrowers.
Now, if then we contemplate a lawsuit that is going to benefit farmers on the one hand, why is it we structure the compensation that those farmers would not benefit from the lawsuit? We maintain that the paragraph 11 in the consent decree that makes available class-wide injunctive relief, which is moneys and the proliferation of moneys from USDA that will allow a successful claimant to go back into the industry, will not accrue to those individuals who have the expertise, the equipment, and the resources to take advantage of those. And we maintain that here again the fact that those numbers were as skewed as they were, 92 percent versus 8 percent, is further evidence to prove that USDA employees are in effect doing their jobs, Mr. Chairman. They are very efficient at what they do. But the question is: What is their job? Their job, particularly their relationship, their familiar relationship to other members in the community, FSA, the local banks and the local court systems, have created a phalanx of sort, out of which an African-American farmer will not escape with his deeds intact.
And based on that comment, sir, my upbringing was such that my mother would have a fit if I was disobedient today.
You gave me 5 minutes and I see that I am up to 1 minute and 18 seconds. True to my upbringing, I shall yield, sir.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Burrell appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, very much. We very much appreciate you and your mother.
We will now recognize Mr. Zippert and hope that his mother was just as dedicated to timeliness and honor as Mr. Burrell's.
STATEMENT OF JOHN ZIPPERT, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, FEDERATION OF SOUTHERN COOPERATIVES, LAND ASSISTANCE FUND, EPES, AL
Mr. ZIPPERT. I thank both you and Mrs. Clayton for giving us the opportunity to have this hearing and put on record some very important information about the performance of USDA and possible ways to improve its performance.
And let me say that I am John Zippert. I am the director of program operations for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives at our rural Training and Research Center in Epes, AL. I am also the Chair of the Board of the Rural Coalition, which represents an assortment of farmers throughout the country. And we have submitted to you a 29-page statement in great detail, including appendix materials. And we have other detailed materials to present and give if you so desire.
I personally have been working since 1965 in rural communities starting in Louisiana, primarily working with black farmers. And on page 4 of this statement I say what I have said to the press, that I have never met a black farmer who did not express to me some degree of discrimination on the part of their dealings with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And I stand by that statement and that statement echoes some of the other things that have been said here.
On page 5, 6, and 7 of our statement, we go into some detail of our critique about Pigford v. Glickman, Pigford v. Veneman, and in particular we are concerned about the complexity of the process, the slowness of the process, the lack of outreach, real outreach to black farmers, the 40 percent rejection rate.
Page 108 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, the only 1.9 percent acceptance rate of the 69,000 people who applied for a late claim. We feel that that rate is unacceptable and more needs to be done by Michael Lewis to allow more people into the class. And you might want to look at, and we are certainly going to ask you for a copy of the report he gave you so that we can better understand his rationale for making judgments about these late claims.
But I think the real purpose of this hearing is to talk about removing the need for litigation against USDA. And we start talking about that on pages 8, 9, and 10 of our statement. And basically we think it will be very important to appoint this independent Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. We think that is important. We think it needs to be done.
We are also concerned that the Outreach Program, the 2501 Program which has been successful, be continued; that the $3 million that they currently have in fiscal 2002 and the prospect of funds in 2003 be used, number one, to immediately continue the programs that are in effect and then to work toward expanding those programs, and for Congress to give the full $25 million to this program.
We also think there ought to be a registry of minority farmers. That is one way to really measure and evaluate what the Department has done. We have met with them for 6 or 7 years, asking for this and clearing all the hurdles, and it still has not been instituted.
We think the Government needs to pay for the Extension Program on Indian reservations that desire to have the program. We think there needs to be uniform procedures for these county committee elections. That might help to get more people elected.
I personally think we ought to look at these committees, because, for instance, in Alabama, there is one blackout of 189 committee people. And in those counties and in those jurisdictions where at least 10 percent of the voters are minority, perhaps there ought to be a seat that is specifically elected by the minority group. That is not in the statement, but that is a kind of a proportional, representative way to really have an elected person rather than a minority advisor that is not really chosen by the community.
Page 109 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We strongly support the transparency and accountability provision. We support Mr. Burkett and Mr. Pennick on their receipt for service, because what really happens is many people go in the office and they are turned away with no application, no information, no encouragement. And getting some kind of paper on those people would definitely change some of the statistics you heard here today, because those statistics are about people who actually make an application. And what has happened in this whole process is that there is an active discouragement of minority people from making an application in the first place. And that is why you have thousands of people applying in the Pigford v. Glickman case, because many of them are people who attempted and tried to use the programs of the Agency and were turned down along the way.
We support equitable funding for the minority-serving educational institutions that are involved, the 1890 colleges, the tribal colleges, and Spanish-speaking colleges.
And I know I am over, but I want to call your attention to the chart on page 13 of this report, because this whole issue goes well beyond the question of FSA loans. This goes to the question of the Conservation Reserve Program, the emergency programs, the Commodity Program. If you look at that chart on page 13, you have 2.62 percent of all farmers in 1992 were black, yet in the Conservation Reserve Program, black people only received 0.43 percent of the benefits. And so on and so forth.
You can see that basically minority farmers are not even getting their very limited share of these programs. And that is why the transparency provisions and the provisions that call for knowing the participation rates in these programs down to the county level are critical to understanding whether or not USDA is really doing the job.
And let me finish by saying just on this whole question of should people be fired and so on, I can tell you from my personal experience that I helped over 100 people in Sumter County Alabama to fill out their claim in the case. And most of them prevailed. And all of them complained about the same people in the county office who have now retired. And those 100 people claimed $5 million of Government money, and I don't believe anybody questioned these people who are now receiving pension benefits
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Zippert, I am not going to hold your mother accountable but I am going to hold you accountable. If you would summarize your testimony.
Mr. ZIPPERT. Yes, I would say that the Governmentyou have heard here today that in Pigford v. Glickman, the Government spent $800 million already on past discrimination. And for less than $50 million a year, you could have a registry, you could have an outreach program, you could have a tribal extension program, you could have fair elections to the county committee. And I am saying as an oversight committee, you really need to look at making sure USDA is spending the money it gets to really have a program that makes sense for minority farmers. Because paying out all of these millions of dollars for past discrimination without changing anything is really a question on the use of the taxpayers' money.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Zippert appears at the conclusion of the hearing; supplemental material submitted for the record is on file with the committee.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
Mr. Lucas, welcome. Pleased to have your testimony.
STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE C. LUCAS, PRESIDENT, COALITION OF MINORITY EMPLOYEES, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. LUCAS. Thank you very much. I would like to enter in the record a slightly revised portion of my statement.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
Mr. LUCAS. But also some documents that will support some of the things that I am going to say.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like to thank the very honorable chairperson, in our hearts and mind, representing this organization that represents 53 presidents throughout the United States and 32 States. And I would like to say that Congresswoman Clayton, you are honored by our people around the country for not only standing up for farmers of this country, all farmers of this country, but also seeking justice for employees around the country. And I thank you for that.
I would also like to indicate that I come here a little different than most, in a capacity concerned for the civil rights of farmers as well as employees. When I started this journey with John Boyd, Tim Pigford, Gary Grant, it was a journey that I never thought would take this long. But the more I learned about the problems of the farmers, I clearly understood how intertwined the civil rights problem at USDA is intertwined with the civil rights problems of our customers around the country.
I am sorry to say before I came to this meeting, I got a call from Iowa. The only black woman farmer in Iowa that they could identify is on the verge of losing her 250-acre farm because of actions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSA.
I am also very saddened to say that I talked with a native American in Montana. I am sorry to say because she filed a title 7 complaint against the State director of FSA in the State of Montana, they have decided that they are going to take her land, her ranch, and her livelihood from her because she spoke up for what she believed was right.
I want to say thank you to the good Congressman Conyers. You have been there for us. You have been here not just for farmers of this country and for employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but I think this committee, in having this hearing today and what you have left in our hearts and minds, Congressman, that you will stay the course for what is right not only for the people I serve, but for the Nation, this great Nation.
But this great Nation is not going to be the nation that it can be and should be unless we clean up that mess in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Page 112 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am going to say something right now that will probably give you all a little heartburn. But I also want to thank this administration. I have met with Lou Gallegos and we did not always agree. In fact, we still do not agree on everything. But I have also been able to sit down and talk with Dale Moore, the chief of staff. And I think under this administration, we may be able to accomplish what has not been accomplished in the last administrations. I hope I am not proven wrong. I hope I am not proven wrong. But I believe there is a solution to this problem not only for employees, but also a process that can be used for farmers. The Office of General Counsel that said that there was no discrimination against black farmers and women farmers of this country, some of those same people are still in the Office of General Counsel at USDA today.
I say to you that if we do not hold accountable the actions of the Office of General Counsel, we are not going to get to this problem.
I firmly believe, I firmly believe that it has been the Office of General Counsel has been the problem of not solving the class actions of farmers. Now, they will tell you that because the case is not a class action or certified, therefore they cannot resolve it. But yet we had one of the best examples under another administration, Sessions, when he was head of the Justice Department. He did not listen to his general counsel, he did not listen to some of his bigoted and racist attorneys around him. He settled the class action at the Justice Department over the desires of the Office of General Counsel. He did it because it was the right thing to do, and the black agents are now serving this country and protecting people in this country besides going through a process of discrimination and filing complaints.
I feel as though if we can keep the Office of General Counsel from controlling the civil rights process in USDA, I think we can also solve some of the problems and get some of these cases resolved.
I have in front of me two documents and I will only read a portion of them. In fact because of my time, I will not read any of them. I will just give you oversight.
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There were two civil rights directors, one Lloyd Wright, that indicated in his letter to then-Secretary Glickman that the Office of Civil Rights in its malaise as well as its injustice would stop or do anything to stop the cause of right as it relates to civil rights in USDA. Rosalyn Gray, another civil rights director which is very recent, she said in so many words in one of her affidavits, she said the Office of Civil RightsI am sorrythe Office of General Counsel oversees the civil rights process at USDA. When the Office of Civil Rights was created, the Office of General Counsel insisted that all attorneys be hired to review the enforcement and that that enforcement be in the Office of General Counsel.
She states that the Office of General Counsel did not have the intent and the goodwill to carry on what should be the desires of that Secretary.
I think there is a process called ADR in early intervention that can solve not only employee complaints but also some of the complaints in this area with farmers. I believe that under the leadership of this Secretary, Dale Moore, and Lou Gallegos, and with the assistance that they now have in Clyde Thompson who has just joined that staff, I believe if they are not interfered with by the Office of General Counsel, I believe Clyde Thompson, what he brings to the table and his experience in the Forest Service in settling recently the Donnelly v. Glickman class that is now going through the process of being resolved in California, I think if we can allow the independence of that office to sit down with the attorneys of the classesand I am talking about farmers as well as employeesbefore you go to court, the one thing that the courts will demand happen is that you sit down and negotiate and try to solve them before taking up the time of the courts of this country.
I believe that we should go into and attempt that same process and allow the Office of General Counsel to step aside and see if it would work.
We know that basically what has gone on at USDA under the past leadership has not worked. I believe that under the guidance and the supervision of very concerned people about this process in getting these cases off the books, both employees and farmers, I think this process could work.
Page 114 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I do believe that in the case of the 2501 Program, for example, I do believe the $2.5 million that was given to them should in fact be carried over for the next year.
I am going to close, but if you care to answer any questions, the one thing I want to say is that I thank this committee for moving forward. I am honored to be here with all the farmers and the people on this panel as well as others. I thank you for taking this and being tenacious in your effort to resolve this problem. But it is not going to happen unless you give the power to people who are really concerned. And I believe that there are people at USDA now that were not there before, who are really conscientiously wanting to resolve this problem, but they need the support from you and the kind of independence with doing creative things to resolve the problem and not doing it the way they did in the past. I thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Lucas appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you Mr. Lucas. And I thank you for your comments.
I note that Assistant Secretary Gallegos has been here the entire hearing. Many times we have Government witnesses testify and leave after their testimony, but he has remained here from both the previous panel and the testimony of your panel. And the same with the chief of staff, Dale Moore. And I know that they are interested in making sure this is taken care of properly.
I would just renew my offer to the gentleman from Michigan, if he has any questions that he would like to address, I will yield him my time.
Mr. CONYERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that so much.
But the testimony here has been so compelling that I have gotten far more out of listening to the farmers and their representatives and their lawyers than any questions that I could summon forth. And so I thank you and Mrs. Clayton again for that opportunity.
Page 115 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, thank you. And I agree with you, we have gained a lot from the testimony. Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I think Representative Conyers said well that the testimony speaks for itself. And hopefully hearing it is part of the opportunity of putting it on the record. But more importantly, I hope that we have the political will to do what we have heard.
And I do think that there is a need for resolve on the part of Members of Congress. I think there is a need for resolve for the administration. And I think there is a need for resolve for those who represent farmers, as well as farmers themselves, to further this communication, sharing of ideas, being persistent to get these ideas before and explain them.
I have to believe that there is some goodwill among all of us, that we want to make sure that we rid ourselves eventually of this awful, long saga of agriculture being the Last Plantation. And so if that goodwill is there and the intellect is there, I think that all we need is the courage to act on the recommendations that the witnesses have given.
So Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the endurance, and I thank the panelists and all the witnesses who have made an effort to come to Washington to put their case on the record.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, thank you, Mrs. Clayton. I want to again thank all the members of the panel for their participation and the members of the previous panels. And our timing may finally be good. The bell indicates another vote. So rather than detain you for a period of time that we will be over there voting, we will thank you all. And after I read some magic words, we will conclude the hearing.
At this time, the Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and supplementary written responses from witnesses to any question posed to a member of the panel.
Page 116 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Without objection, it is so ordered.
This hearing of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 4:45 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Statement of Edgar Hicks, the Nicodemus Flour Co-op
The Nicodemus Flour Co-op continues to voice our concern that the door to Kansas City Commodity Office (KCCO) programs in the area of grain should have a significant outreach handle on it. Grain programs make use of significant financial resources in the USDA budget. However, in grain no black farm group or cooperative has ever qualified with the USDA to do donation business to Sub-Sahara Africa. The same issue applies in grain-based foods (flour) to the school lunch program. In the past, least landed-cost has been the only criteria for awarding government contracts. (Our view is, that in the long run this has not been the most economical choice for American taxpayers.) Current USDA policy also stifles the opportunity to bridge ancestral and cultural divides.
Considering the capital intensity required, we continue to ask that there should be some consideration to at least develop some aspect of sub-contracting activism in USDA bid invitations. The Nicodemus Flour Co-op believes it has the expertise and support to deliver product. What we lack is the ability to show the financial structure that will allow the KCCO judgment leeway to qualify us and also maintain the CCC's fiduciary obligation to taxpayers. In meeting with staff in Kansas City, they have outlined that they have rigid guidelines that must be followed.
The Nicodemus Flour Co-op reiterates its view of systemic-lockout. There is no visible black success story in USDA grain programs! Given this, if there is a next generation of minority grain farmers, will we be revisiting the litigious trough?
Page 117 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Recently in the USDA's Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grant Program (VADG), we attended grant workshops in Hays on July 8 and also the meeting in Manhattan on July 11. We are sincerely thankful for such a program. However, the requirement of one-to-one matching funds, given our current financial commitments in trying to sustain our present business efforts with Nicodemus Flour Co-op, precluded our participation. Capital management is everything in our commodity based business; and of course, this has been the exclusionary ingredient in our lack of presence in USDA grain programs.
We need to be told that nothing, in the USDA's equity process, can be changed! Then, we will at least know our limits.
Please find attached a recent Associated Press article about our co-op that has appeared in numerous publications from the New York Times to the Hill City Times during recent months.
BLACK KANSAS FARMERS SEEK FLOUR MILL TO SURVIVE
By Roxana Hegeman, the Associated Press
NICODEMUS, KS.It was 1886 when the Western Cyclone, a weekly newspaper once published in this black settlement, first printed the ad.
''Looking for a good flour mill,'' it said.
By that time, the number of former slaves farming this Kansas prairie had swelled to nearly 700. From one end of the township to the other, black farmers could be seen toiling their few acres.
Among them was Alonzo Gillan Alexander, who farmed 600 acres of wheat with mules.
More than 115 years later, Alexander's descendants have rallied the last remaining black farmers and residents to build that long-sought flour mill. In the process, they hope to save the family farm and revive the dying black town.
Page 118 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the late 1870's and early 1880's, several thousand black Americans flocked to Kansas, earning them the nickname of ''Exodusters.'' From the exodus of former slaves, more than a half-dozen black settlements sprung up in Kansas. Of those communities, only Nicodemus survived. The northwest Kansas town is now a protected National Historic Park site.
Alexander's grandsonA. Gillan Alexander III, or Gil, as he is better known around Nicodemusfarms 650 acres of wheat. Alexander; his sister, Sharyn Dowdell; and three other farmers founded the Nicodemus Flour Co-op in 2000.
Last July, they took their hard white wheat crop to a neighboring mill and produced 250 3-pound containers of flour under the name ''Promised Land Flour.''
It quickly sold out.
The dream of the town's own flour mill soon grew. Low grain prices raised hope that the entrepreneurs could make money by milling their own hard white wheat flour and marketing it under the name of the historic town.
''We want the standard set for this flour . . . so people can know not only our milling flour but that we are maintaining the land that maintains usbecause, believe it or not, it is the only land we've got,'' Gil Alexander said.
The first black settlers came to Nicodemus from Kentucky to flee racial oppression after the Civil War, founding the all-black colony in 1877. Soon others followed from Michigan, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Kansaslong associated with the Underground Railroad and abolitionist John Brownwas billed as the Promised Land for former slaves and other black Americans by land developers eager to populate the barren prairie.
Within a decade, settlers boasted four general stores, a grocery, three land companies, two druggists, a lawyer, two hotels, two livery stables, a blacksmith shop, a harness and boot repair store, and an ice cream parlor. The town even had a baseball team, a literary society and a band.
Page 119 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But more than a century later, little remains. The town began to decline after failing to attract a railroad. Businesses shut down, and the population shrank to as few as 23 persons and two dogs. No children live in Nicodemus.
Only four black farmers still work the land once homesteaded by their ancestors, though several black landowners lease land for others to farm. Most either lost their farmland to mortgage foreclosures or sold out to bigger farmers.
Gil Alexander's cousin, Angela Bates-Tompkins, is the town's historian. She hopes the town's designation as a national park, and the flour's roots in Nicodemus history, will give the product an edge.
''It is in our blood to make it successful,'' she said.
It was Bates-Tompkins, in researching the town's history to get the Federal historical designation, who found that opening a flour mill was one of the town's objectives when it was originally built.
That discovery made a big impression on Edgar Hicks, a grain marketing consultant in Omaha, NE.
''We feel it is kind of a mandate to develop this flour mill,'' he said.
A native Louisianan with no family ties to Nicodemus, Hicks was nonetheless drawn to the town. His grain industry expertise got the town an $83,965 Federal grant last year to develop a historical community-based wheat milling cooperative.
Preliminary estimates put the cost of a mill and wheat cleaning facility at $2.5 million, and the group is looking to buy a nearby abandoned school for the facility initially because Nicodemus has no buildings that could house it.
Farmers in general are facing challenges with low wheat prices, and selling a product like flourinstead of just a bulk commoditycould help, Hicks said.
The objective, he said, is to save Nicodemus.
''If something happens to these farmers, there wouldn't be anything left of Nicodemus but a historical park site,'' Hicks said.
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Statement of Ben Burkett
My name is Ben Burkett. I am a fourth generation farmer from Petal, MS. I produce vegetable, cattle and timber. I also belong to Indian Springs Farmers' Association, which is a member of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund and the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives.
My experience includes serving on the Farm Services Agency Mississippi State Committee from 19932000. I was also a member of the National Commission on Small Farmers, which produced the report ''A Time to Act.''
I have both farmed and worked with small farmers for 25 years.
I come before you today to share my experiences and recommendations with regard to Transparency and Accountability in USDA Program Delivery.
I do not believe that African-American and other minority farmers have historically received fair and equitable service from the US Department of Agriculture, and particularly the Farm Services Agency and its predecessor agencies. Nor do I believe the situation has improved to this day. In this statement, I will further detail some of the problems we encounter and provide recommendations for the structural changes that remain essential in USDA Programs and services.
RETALIATION IS GROWING IN USDA FIELD OFFICES
In many instances, in fact, service seems to be deteriorating. Since the settlement of the Pigford v. Glickman class action lawsuit for African-American producers, we have noticed a growing pattern of retaliation against farmers who have received settlements. Farmers are increasingly facing hostility and receiving no help.
In a number of offices where our organizations had previously built positive working relationships with county office employeesrelationships that were benefiting farmerswe are encountering a new unwillingness to continue such cooperation. County office staff now seem fearful to work with black farmers. Because the pattern is evident throughout the south, we believe that both retaliation and resistance are tolerated, sanctioned and/or directed from above, at higher levels of the Farm Services Agency.
Page 121 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We believe this situation demands an immediate and proactive response from the administration. Employees need not only more training, but leadership and accountability for their performance.
PREVIOUS STRUCTURAL INEQUITIES AND INVISIBLE DISCRIMINATION REMAIN
We also believe that long standing problems deserve the attention of this committee. The lack of transparency and making public information the department already collects severely impedes the ability of Congress and the public to ensure accountability.
More information will also allow better analysis of patterns of discrimination. The analysis that has been done over the years by GAO and others, for example, often finds only small disparities in service between minority and other farmers in a particular program. We believe that the discrimination that still permeates every level of FSA programs is more subtle and different measures of performance are needed.
For example, while USDA has asserted little difference in approval rates or the length of the approval process for African-American and other farmers that could be attributed to racial rather than economic factors, we believe more analysis is needed, The 1992 program participation data supplied to the Rural Coalition and contained in their recently released report shows that minority farmers had much lower participation rates in the Conservation Reserve Program, the Corn loan program and even the cotton program. We believe the same is true in many other of the department's farm and conservation programs.
The ability of a farmer to cash flow on a loan is significantly improved if the farm is also participating in a commodity program or programs such as the Conservation Reserve and EQIP programs. Yet there is little attention has been paid to the longstanding exclusion of minority farmers from both the historic and the current programs of the department, and how these factors also affect their ability to secure credit and repay loans.
In my area, the EQIP program is targeted to chicken producers. Thus, chicken producers receive more points in their applications. Such priorities, which differ by state and region, often serve to exclude small and minority producers from the benefits of a very important program. Likewise, we have very few producers who have been able to secure participation in the CRP program. Minority farm participation in disaster programs also needs evaluation.
Page 122 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For this reason, we urge Congress to assure that USDA quickly implements the new transparency and accountability provisions in the farm bill that require USDA to disclose the participation rates of minority and woman farmers compared to all farmers down to the county level for every program of the department. In this way, both USDA and program participants can objectively evaluation program participation results. Congressional oversight remains essential.
Loan making statistics and evaluation should include not only approval rates and the length of time it takes for a loan to be approved. They should also compare the date the loan is made to assure that minority farm loans are made in as timely a manner as for other farmers. A loan which is approved in 20 days, but two or three months later than for other farmers significantly affects the ability of a farmer to produce his or her crop.
These forms of invisible discrimination are compounded by service inequities in field offices. For many years and still today, minority farmers will seek an application for a USDA program. The will be told the application forms will not be available for three weeks. When they return at the specified time, they are told the applications, or the funds, have run out. Because no records exist, the farmer has no way to document a complaint for disparate treatment. This problem is especially severe in those programs where limited funds are made available to a county.
To address this problem, we who work with minority farmers strongly recommend that the Department institute a ''request for service'' receipt. Anytime a farmer is not supplied immediately with an application or a service or a request is denied, he or she is to be supplied with a receipt that states the reason for a delay or denial. Copies of these receipts should be kept on file at the office, and monitored to detect service inequities. We believe the simple existence of such a requirement will help to cure the problem.
Likewise, the department should maintain records and track the date of first application for all of its programs. If minority farmers are applying later in county offices, they agency should investigate to learn why. Inadequacies in outreach or service should then be corrected.
Page 123 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Another longstanding inequity in program crop programs relates to the establishment of bases. When bases were set in 1985, black farmers were always given a lower base. It is essential that Congress establish a system which allows a farmer to update his base to better reflect current production. There is a particular need for this action in the cotton program
Finally, research by the Rural Coalition and others has demonstrated a very low participation by minority farmers in crop insurance programs. Problems seem related to both the unfamiliarity by minority producers with the insurance companies and agents who sell crop insurance, the lack of strategic outreach and market research by the companies to determine how they could better reach these farmers, and the inadequacy of the products the industry offers and that Congress has approved relative to the needs of smaller and more diversified producers.
SHARED APPRECIATION MORTGAGES AND BLACK FARMERS
Congress needs to better address the crisis created by the shared appreciation mortgages now coming due. Many black farmers signed these agreements. Like other producers, they are now being called upon to make a balloon payment of the shared appreciation on their farms, This requirement to repay a share of appreciation after 10 years was not made clear to farmers when the agreements were signed. This vague policy threatens many black farmers with the loss of more farmland. We recommend that if Congress and the Administration cannot agree that after 10 years, the agreement should simply expire, then the farmer should be offered instead a net recovery buyout in order to maintain his or her land.
DISCRIMINATION BY REGULATION
The new farm bill has gone into effect. We are concerned that the regulations adopted will have a discriminatory effort. For example, the regulations implemented for the new Value Added Grants Program are skewed towards larger cooperatives and organizations that underrepresented minorities and small producers. They do nor serve emerging and small farmer cooperatives whose applications were rejected in the first grant round. The program should serve these farmers, and regulatory changes should be made to assure this happens.
Page 124 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We believe oversight of the regulatory process on all of the farm bill programs is essential, particularly in the case of the new conservation security program. The way the program is written makes minority farm participation tenuous given the technical requirements of the program. Congress at the last minute dropped a $10 million outreach program to help minority farmers gain the knowledge they need to participate. As such, it is even more essential that the Natural Resources and Conservation Service work with minority farm groups as the regulations are written. Adequate outreach funding is also essential.
LEADERSHIP CHANGES NEEDED
After years of reports, documentation and costly lawsuits, we are concerned that little has changed in the leadership of the Department. The same people who have discriminated in the past are still in place at every level of the department. Managers who have either allowed, condoned or refused to acknowledge discrimination by their employees are still in place.
While we are glad that more money has been earmarked for direct loans, the same people are in place that still make and service those loans. There is no consequence for hostility and retaliation in the treatment of minority farmers. USDA, and FSA in particular, have not released any statistics to document who and at what level in what regions and states have been reprimanded or removed for their actions. The lack of action and the lack of reporting on action just feeds a climate in which employees who discriminate see little consequence to their actions.
Likewise, the county committee system remains in place and forms a significant barrier to the participation of minority producers in farm programs. The department has the clear authority to reprimand and remove county employees who do not treat farmers fairly. Yet it has not done so.
The county committee system is fraught with problems. The new provisions of the farm bill to require disclosure of data on minority farm participation must be quickly implemented. The election procedure reforms Congress has adopted also need quick implementation. Ballots must be opened and counted at the same time. Where fair participation is not achieved, the department must use the new authority provided to assure adequate representation.
Page 125 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I also recommend that Congress exercise oversight on how records are kept of eligible voters. As the Rural Coalition report shows, there are far more eligible voters than there are farmers. Lists remain grossly inaccurate and open to misuse. Yet these lists are the basis of outreach the agency is supposed to conduct. .
My brother, James H. Burkett, 5 years dead, still receives ballots. I have reported this to the county committee at least ten times, but his ballot continues to arrive. We are providing the committee with a voter list from a county in Florida. A review of that list found more than 20 of some 700 farmers who were deceased, one since 1984. Many others have left farming.
We do not know how much is spend each year on the operation of this system. Once again, it is long past time for transparency. The system must be reformed, replaced or eliminated altogether.
THE MINORITY FARM OUTREACH AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
The Minority Farm Outreach and Technical Assistance Program is the only program Congress has established to specifically respond to the crisis in minority farm agriculture. The program supports outreach and assistance to low income minority farmers and cooperatives to diversify operations and build markets. It is the most effective tool Congress has provided to carry out the mission of USDA as the technical provider for small farmers. For a very small investment, the program has significant multiplier effects in the small and poor communities where there exist few other possibilities for sustainable economic development.
The Outreach and Technical Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, established in Section 2501 of the 1990 FACT Act, has allowed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reach producers traditionally under-served by USDA programs. The 1990 Farm Bill authorized $10 million to be appropriated to community based organizations and educational institutions to provide outreach and technical assistance to minority farmers.
Page 126 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Small and Disadvantaged Farmer Initiative, established administratively within USDA by the Reagan and Bush administrations in response to a 1982 report by the Civil Rights Commission, detailing the precipitous decline in black-owned farms and the relationship of this decline to USDA service delivery, was folded in to the Section 2501 program. Funding for this program was provided administratively from the Salaries and Expense line item in the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) budget, in the amounts of approximately $1 million a year from about 1984 through 1993. The ''S and E'' allocation was increased to almost $4 million, until it was eliminated when FmHA was split in the 1994 reorganization of USDA.
After many years of trying, Congress appropriated $1 million for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1993, and the first funds were allocated in late 1993. Congress appropriated $3 million for fiscal years 1994 and $2.9 million in 1995, but despite coordinated advocacy efforts led by the community based organizations, this amount was reduced to $1 million for fiscal year 1996 and fiscal year 1997. In fiscal year 1997, Secretary Glickman provided an additional $4.5 million for the program from the Fund for Rural America. Congress in recent years has provided only $3 million per year for the program.
In the 2002 farm bill, this committee increased the authorized funding level for the program to $25 million. By directing resources to organizations and educational institutions with the demonstrated experience and ability to reach and assist these farmers and ranchers, cost effective and expert assistance can equip traditionally underserved people to more readily access new markets and the many USDA services and programs previously out of their reach.
The program has been transferred numerous times among the agencies of the Department, most recently to CSREES. This program needs a stable home at USDA and a leader who knows the minority farm community. We believe that within CSREES, the Small Farms Program is the most appropriate place to assure the program is well managed and open to those whom it was designed to serve.
Page 127 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPROGRAMS FOR SMALL FARMERS
Farm programs by their very structure benefit single commodity producers more than other producers. Small farmers need a farm program, and perhaps a single agency that is designed to support their diversified production needs. Congress and the administration should work with small farmers to consider possible new programs and services that serve this growing sector of US agriculture.
Recommendations: The following are my recommendations to correct structural inequities and assure fair service to minority farmers.
FSA Leadership and Accountability. Change the leadership of farm credit and farm programs, removing those who have long been part of the problem. Replace them with leaders who will train employees in their mission, set high standards for their interaction with farmers, measure results, and hold them immediately accountable for any inequities in service.
USDA Transparency. Implement the provisions of the 2002 farm bill that requires USDA agencies to report at the national, state and county levels the participation rates of minority and woman farmers compared to other farmers in each program of the department that serves farmers. Make these figures available to the public and on websites of the department, and use them to evaluate program success and to measure county office performance.
Establish a system that details participation in multiple programs of the department, classified by race, ethnicity, gender and farm size.
Institute a ''request for service'' receipt to be provided whenever a request by a farmer is denied or not met at a particular time. USDA should be required to supply these receipt to all whose requests are not met and to copies for review of all receipts supplied.
Reform of USDA County Committees. The county committee system must be reformed, replaced or abolished.
Page 128 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The department should begin this reform by implementing the provisions of the 2002 farm bill that require timely reporting of county committee election participation and results by race and gender and that provide for fair conduct of elections and handling of ballots.
The system of appointed, non-voting minority advisors should be ended. FSA should instead demonstrate that it can conduct fair elections and assure fair representation of all farmers on county committees without the need for appointed minority advisors.
FSA needs to establish new procedures to determine who is eligible to vote and to remove from lists those who are no longer eligible to vote.
FSA should report to Congress of the costs of operating the county committee system and justify that the benefits outweigh the costs. Public comment on this report should be invited and results reported to Congress.
Implementation programs of the 2002 farm bill and Beyond. Congress should require USDA agencies to review and invite public commend on possible discriminatory impact in regulations that are issued.
Congress should evaluate the programs it has established to determine if they really meet the needs of small and minority producers
Congress and the administration should work with small farmers to consider a program and possibly an agency designed to serve the needs of minority and other small farmers. Hearings on these needs and ideas should be held well before the next farm bill debate.
Recommendations Concerning the Minority Farm Outreach and Technical Assistance Program
Due to delay in passage of the fiscal year 2003 appropriations, USDACSREES should immediately allocate the $3 million in fiscal year 2002 funds for the Minority Farm Outreach Program to continue current grants without interruption until a new grant cycle can be set in place.
Page 129 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The program, which has been moved from agency to agency, needs a permanent home at with a clear, identifiable and accountable program leader. It is essential that this leader knows and understands community based groups and minority serving institutions the program is designed to serve. This SARE program is an example of the value of a program with an identifiable and accountable leader for its constituenc
No less than the current House agriculture appropriations level of $8.2 Million should be provided for the fiscal year 2003 Appropriation.
For fiscal year 2004, this Committee should strongly support a full appropriation of $25 million for the program.
Congress should maintain oversight of the program and assure that in the future, grants are multi-year, provided to community based organizations and minority serving institutions with proven track records in serving minority farmers.
Congress should make clear to the administration that the new authority that allows other agencies to contribute funds to outreach contracts is designed to supplement and not reduce the need for a full congressional appropriation of authorized funds. For years minority farmers have not received equitable outreach from many programs. The authority to allow coordination with other programs is designed to assure that minority farmers are adequately served with outreach under every program of the department.
Shared Appreciation Mortgages. Shared Appreciation Mortgages, should either expire at the end of their term with no recapture, or else FSA should write down the loan to net recovery buyout so people can hold onto their land.
Statement of Lawrence C. Lucas
I thank the Agriculture Committee and especially you, Mrs. Eva Clayton, for inviting the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees here today.
Page 130 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have come here to tell this committee and the good chairman say what some at the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants silenced. The Coalition of Minority Employees (The Coalition) has been part of the glue that holds employees and farmers lives together, saves their homes, their land, their equipment, their families andtheir lives. We convinced Lloyd Wright and the Office of General Counsel (OGC) to find an attorney to go to a farmer's house in southern Virginia, because he was on dialysis machineat the brink of death. His family begged John Boyd and the Coalition to save their land and their way of life. Since that day, I don't know of one other decent act OGC has performed. For the OGC to act fairly, justly, decently and show dignity and respect for life and limb, it would need to undergo an out of body experience. There is little chance of that happening, so farmers and employees continue being the victims of OGC abuse and cruelty. The plantation mentality at USDA remains uncheckedcontinuing its racist, sexist, and intimidating culture. In fact ''Deliberate Indifference'' rules the landscape in Washington, DC and Nationwide.
Lloyd E. Wright, former, Director, Office of Civil Rights, in a letter addressed to James Gilliland, former General Counsel, dated July 10, 1991, referred to earlier memoranda written by J. Michael Kelly, former, General Counsel and other OGC staff indicating his distrust of the OGC, charging them with conspiracy to undermine civil rights. ''This memorandum is clear documentation showing how you, in a very malicious way, are misinterpreting the facts.'' Further, it is very clear to me that I cannot trust or depend on OGC for any assistance in dealing civil rights issues at USDA. Also, it is very clear to me that OGC will do everything it can to discredit me personally and professionally and to obstruct any effort to improve civil rights at USDA.
In the area of Class Action complaints, some of which have been going on for years, the USDA stance remains adversarial. USDA has settled some Class Actions as a result of the work of the Coalition of Minority Employees. In my view all the Class Action complaints could be settled tomorrow, if only the Office of General Counsel, were to become a willing and good faith partner. OGC and the Department make some effort to negotiate with class agents and their attorneys, but view these employees and customers as adversaries. USDA and OGC lack the desire to identify the root causes of the problem and to work together and collaborate in good faith. Both the Department and OGC want to maintain the status quo and not come to the table in good faith. They drag out class and individual complaints through a drawn out convoluted process of structured delays, which is controlled by OGC and administered by the Assistant Secretary for Administration. These structured delays are designed to abuse and skew outcomes and deny people their legal rights is one of the reasons that USDA is considered to employ the culture of a Plantation Mentality and a purveyor of systemic discrimination. Forcing these cases to linger through indefinite time periods and the time-consuming bureaucracy of indifference indicates that USDA is not anxious to negotiate or be flexible in their position.
Page 131 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I recommend that Negotiating Teams be established for each of the Class Action complaints - Farmers and Employees Negotiations must be convened and commence not in adversarial positions, but as partners engaged in bringing about resolutions.
Over the years, the Office of Civil Rights efforts to provide training and guidance and oversight to USDA agencies has diminished. As a result, agencies are left without a coherent forum or venue for developing quality civil rights policies. Agencies, managers and civil rights staff lack guidance. Thus, affirmative action plans are not being developed, achievable goals and objectives remain unmet, and human resource management is fragmented. This results in USDA remaining deficient in implementing Federal Regulations and Laws prohibiting discrimination.
I recommend that the OCR resurrect program capabilities to provide guidance, training, and oversight to USDA agencies. Officials, managers and others, proven to be guilty of discrimination must be held accountable. Given the massive number of complaints that continue being generated, it is clear that accountability and discipline are rare. happening.
Zero tolerance does not exist, USDA believes in forgive and forge, in complaints where there is clear agency vulnerability. The cases usually never become ''Formal'' because they are flagged as ''Settled''. Settlement means that a finding of discrimination is avoided in exchange for money or promotions.
I recommended that all settlement agreements be inspected and reviewed to determine fault, in order to apply proper disciplinary actions.
USDA has not learned from past mistakes: officials continue their ''arbitrary and capricious acts.'' John Boyd, Gary Grant, Pigford, Calvin King, Ralph Paige, Stephen, Hill, and The Coalition could solicit testimony from victims to relate their experiences once again. This bid would result in hundreds of farmers and employees lined up, anxious to describe their horror stories of the abuses suffered at the hands of USDA. The line would be stretching from this table to the White House and beyond. Members of this Committee, put aside partisanship, politics, your party affiliations, your personal feelings and heal this great Nation. And stop USDA, OGC, and Justice Department Attorneys, the political hold-overs from the last and prior Administrations, who just want another notch on their belts from abusing their authority. The Nation can not heal from the terror emanating from 9/11, if we do not come together as one great Nation with justice for all. Trust me, at USDA, there is no justice for all!
Page 132 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Stop trying to put lipstick on a ''gorilla.'' ''Stop trying to make a duck a chicken.'' If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duckladies and gentlemen, it is a duck.
Some of you want to put one face on the guerilla. We are working to fix this travesty of justice; this racism, sexism, and these grave injustices. The harm done is against human beings, against families that work hard and hate welfare, so let's not go there please. They are working hard to retain their heritage, culture, talent, and souls. Farmers believe that their land, their soil, their grass, and their homes are a legacy; given them by mothers and fathers, who saw the need to harvest its gifts to sustain this Nation. The justice we ask for today benefits this Nation now and in the future.
Human beings and employees come in all shades, colors, cultures, religious backgrounds, Republicans and Democrats. They will vote this November and again in November 2004. If this Nation's voters knew what really goes on behind the walls of Congress and on that USDA Plantation on the other end of Independence Avenuesome of you here today would be gone. Thank the almighty that we have decent people in the Congress, the Press, the Media and at the USDA that are still trying to make a difference. However, their efforts are not reaching or touching those that need it mostthe farmers (the bulk of the complaint) and employees of this Nation: black, Hispanic, white, women, Asian, native American and others. One thing is certain, these abusive, racist, sexist, homophobic, come in all colors, sexes, religions, and ages. Yes! It is racism, sexism, but it is also bigotry and a culture of indifference.
You have the power right in this room, to change all this today. Turn the ship around! Change it today! The Bush administration has inherited this USDA mess and is not responsible for this chaos. Ladies and gentlemen, send a loud and clear (ominous) signal that this Nation will not succeed in its war against terrorism outside its borders, if it does not halt the terrorism of bigotry. It is appropriate that this forum comes at the anniversary of 9/11- symbolizing that we will not allow our people to suffer or for evil doers to terrorize us.. The commitment to turn this around must not include just some of youbut all of you.
Page 133 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I hope I am not proven wrong. I truly believe that Secretary Anne Veneman, and other administration officials, Dale Moore, Lou Gallegos, Mark Rey and Elsa Murano will work with you to change USDA into a Federal Department that is a fair and just place for all - - a place where officials care about the customers and the survival of this great Nation.
Let me put a face on this problem. On Friday, August 30, 2002, a woman called me in tears saying that the Farm Service Agency was taking her land, because she filed a discrimination complaint against them. She said that within 1012 days Wells Fargo Bank would take what was left of her furniture, livestock, home, and land. She does not live not in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, but in Montana. She is a Native American. Here and now on this sad day of coming together in America, in solidarity, unfortunately, not for all. When will this madness stop ? Are we a society where we care less about people than we do about dogs, cats, bald eagles and trees in the forest? Something is wrong with this picture.
Take charge of this out of control situation, stand with us not against us. You can do so by implementing the following:
He single most critical weakness for civil rights enforcement and change in USDA is the location of the OCR within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration.
who is charge of routine administrative responsibilities. In USDA he is also responsible for Human Resources, Employee Relations Programs and Civil Rights which are very technical and driven by legal mandates. The Assistant Secretary cannot be cognizant or aware of what is happening at the agency level. Leadership of the highest order, reporting directly to the Secretary is required to ensure accountability and implementation of a non-discriminatory workplace.
Review agencies and hold them accountable through the Assistant Secretary. On a semi-annual basis.
Page 134 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Establish/reestablish an Accountability Division under the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights is the Secretary's Manager for Agency Oversight and Civil Rights accountability.
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights will review the Civil Rights accomplishments of the agency administrators.
Agency administrator will then review accomplishments of the agency civil rights office, with management responsibility for the agency Civil Rights Directors.
Office of Civil Rights, Director, under the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights will review the agency Civil Rights Directors on a function by function basis, to determine whether the agency is complying with 29 CFR 1614 and EEOC MD 110
Agency Civil Rights Director will be reviewed by the Agency Administrators, at the same time reporting on various functions to the USDA Civil Rights, Director.
Each year the Civil Rights Directors will be evaluated by both their agency and the Civil Rights under the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. Each civil rights Director will have a performance element that mandates that they comply with the Assistant Secretary for
Civil Rights goals and objectives. A dotted line on the organizational chart (Accountability Unit).
Have Civil Rights Attorneys available, to carry out the Civil Rights missionworking with/under the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.
Keep OGC Division of Civil Rights out of the business of controlling the civil rights process at USDA. OGC must not be allowed to control or conduct civil rights policy in USDA . . . only to advise. OGC is too involved in Civil rights processing in USDA.
Page 135 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights must control OGC's powers to undermine CivilRights in USDA.
Hold those guilty of discrimination accountable for their abusive acts.
You are demanding more ethics and professionalism from Enron and World Come, why not demand the same level of ethics from USDA officials? What kind of power does OGC and career bureaucrats have over this Congress and the Nation? Is it because they are lawyers that they do not speak, see or hear no evil? Recent events in our history tell us otherwise, from Watergate to Enron. All of this is going on under your watchful eyes and you have the authority and responsibility to bring this chapter to closure at USDA.
Many of you thought you had fixed this mess with lifting the Statute of Limitation. You did little to nothing to shut down the root cause of the problem. Discrimination is alive and well at the County Committees at both the State and Federal level. Discrimination is standard operating procedure at the USDA Farm Service and Rural Development Agency, for some officials in the field and in Washington, DC. You can't convince me that you didn't know about this lack of accountability. The story was told again and again at Nationwide listening sessions and at House and Senate Hearings, by the Civil Rights Action Team, the Civil Rights Implementation Team, the Office of Inspector General, the General Accounting Office, farmers, employees and others.
Let's get our heads of the sand and fix it. Fix it once and for all!
Statement of Dorothy J. Monroe Wise
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Congresswoman Eva Clayton, and members of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, on behalf of my husband, Eddie F. Wise, and me, we thank you for the opportunity to tell you how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has injured our family. As I tell you what happened to my husband and me, be advised that we are not the only small family farmers suffering at the hands of racist and sexist employees at the USDA. Yours is an awesome responsibility, to listen to your constituents' many concerns, and to respond with appropriate oversight and action. My testimony today will focus on three distinct points:
Page 136 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The personal experiences of my husband and me with USDA.
Why we chose to opt out of the Pigford v. Veneman class action lawsuit and become lead plaintiffs in a new class action lawsuit against the USDA called Wise v. Veneman.
What the United States Congress and the USDA can do immediately to address the past and ongoing wrongdoings perpetuated by unlawful and often unscrupulous discriminators.
Upon the conclusion of my testimony, I will be happy to answer questions. Those questions that I cannot answer may be directed to my legal counsel, Attorney Stephon J. Bowens, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers' Land Loss Prevention Project and his co-counsel, Attorney Dawn Battiste, the Managing Attorney for the Land Loss Prevention Project.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES WITH THE U.S.DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Once again, my name is Dorothy J. Monroe Wise, I am an African-American Woman and a small family farmer. I have been farming for approximately 12 years. My husband and I currently cultivate one hundred and fifty acres in Whitakers, North Carolina. Our farm is located in Nash County, where we now raise swine, grow soybeans, hey, peanuts, and sweet potatoes.
There was a time when my husband and I thought that we would never obtain the land that we currently farm. In June 1991 my husband and I went to the Nash County Farmers Home Administration office (FmHA). While there we met Mr. Sidney Long, the Nash County Supervisor for Farm Loan Programs. During this encounter with Mr. Long we advised him that we were interested in obtaining a farm from the inventory maintained by USDA. We disclosed to him that we were aware of an inventoried farm that had been advertised by USDA for $150,000. We asked Mr. Long for a loan application and he responded by telling us that there were no applications available for loan processing. He went on to say that he would forward applications to us once they arrived.
Page 137 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC By the spring of 1992, the applications still had not arrived, so my husband and I went to the FmHA offices in Washington, DC, and Maryland, seeking a loan application. Each time we were advised that we would have to obtain the application from the Nash County, North Carolina FmHA office because the inventory property was located in that district. After multiple telephone calls, letters, and other acts of persistence, Mr. Long finally sent us a loan application to complete in November 1992, some seventeen months after our original request. My husband and I completed the loan application and the accompanying packet in January 1993 and submitted it to Mr. Long. Upon receiving the completed application, Mr. Long advised us that the inventory farm we sought had to be reappraised and readvertised. He also informed us that a new application would have to be completed because he was required to open the bidding process for the inventory farm to everyone.
Although we had grave reservations about this process, we completed the new application and returned it to Mr. Long. From late January through December 1993 Mr. Long would tell us that our application was incomplete and that we needed to provide more information. Each time we complied with his request he would create a new obstacle for us to overcome. In January 1994, over 2 1/2 years after our initial request for a loan application, Mr. Long agreed it was complete. In February 1994, Mr. Long informed us that our application had been denied because of a poor credit history. Mr. Long then proceeded to return the application to us.
Devastated by this decision, having put our plans to live on the farm in Nash County, North Carolina on hold for almost 3 years, we appealed Mr. Long's denial decision. The National Appeals Staff (NAS) overturned Mr. Long's decision to deny us an extension of credit because he had not properly accounted for our credit history. Mr. Long agreed to extend the credit once his decision was overturned. He then refused to give us priority consideration as socially disadvantaged farmers, a female farmer, and/or a beginning farmer and unilaterally placed our application in one of the lowest priority categories. Again we appealed his decision regarding our placement in the priority position and once again he was overturned.
Page 138 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In December 1994, my husband and I were required to participate in a drawing for the inventory farm with another female, socially disadvantaged farmer. Our names were drawn out of the hat used by Mr. Long. He advised us that we had thirty days to complete the application for the purchase of the inventoried farm. In January 1995, we provided Mr. Long with a completed application and 5-year farm and home plan. Mr. Long held our application for more than nine months before he began to process it. He began processing the application only after we wrote Congresswoman Eva Clayton, Congressman David Funderburke, and Congressman Wayne T. Gilcrest. Then in late September 1995, Mr. Long told us that there were no funds available to purchase the farm. He informed us that if we wanted to be on the farm we needed to lease it. He required us to pay approximately $3,500 to lease the farm.
In January 1996, we wrote Mr. Cook, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Small Business Development for USDA. We complained of the problems we had with Mr. Long in obtaining applications, getting loans, and acquiring the inventory farm. Mr. Cook summarily wrote us back in February 1996, stating that because we were eventually awarded the farm that he was closing the file without an investigation.
In June 1996, we contacted the State Director's office regarding our loan application status. To our dismay, we were advised that we had never filed an application for loan funds. After being informed of the problem, the State Director miraculously found $139,000 for our use to purchase the inventory farm. Unfortunately, during the intervening 5 years since we sought to purchase the farm, significant water damage had destroyed the roofs on the existing structures on the farm.
In January 1997, my husband and I recounted our ordeal to USDA Secretary Daniel Glickman at a listening session in Washington, DC. At that meeting we complained of Mr. Long's ongoing discriminatory actions. We informed the Secretary that Mr. Long had changed the terms of the loan from 40 years down to 15 years without our consent. The State director for North Carolina again met with us immediately after the listening session and made arrangements to have our loan notes corrected. In February 1997, the State director intervened to provide us with our first operating loan. The loan had been approved for $170.000.
Page 139 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In April 1997, my husband traveled to Indiana to place a deposit on the hogs that we would use to begin our small hog production operation consistent with our 5-year farm and home plan. Despite the State Director's order to release the approved loan funds, Mr. Long did not give us the $177,000 until September 1997. By this time the hogs were fully grown and were ready for mating. The hogs produced 500 offspring that all died. Because we received the funds so late, the hogs did not have an adequate facility to deliver and care for their offspring. The contractor scheduled to replace the interior of the dilapidated buildings on the inventory farm in May of the same year could not reschedule the repairs until the spring of the following year as a result of the delayed receipt of the loan funds. Our farming operation has yet to recover from Mr. Long's intentional acts of discrimination and we have been left with the unforeseen debt associated with Mr. Long's delays.
In 1998, we were allowed to transfer our accounts with the Farm Service Agency to Martin County, North Carolina. We now have an African-American Supervisor, Mr. Carl Bond. To our knowledge Mr. Long still manages the Nash County office and we have to drive across four county lines, a distance of over 90 miles roundtrip, to get assistance. The physical and emotional distress the Farm Service Agency has caused me and my family is immense.
Why we chose to opt out of the Pigford v. Veneman class action and become lead plaintiffs in a new class action lawsuit against USDA called Wise v. Veneman
As many of you are aware Pigford v. Veneman, 97 (PLF) 1978 (D.C. D.C.), is a class action lawsuit that resulted in a settlement and Consent Decree being issued in April 1999. The Pigford class included African-American farmers who farmed or attempted to farm between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996 that believed they had been discriminated against by USDA officials on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). While the farmers in our community were being told that it would be as easy as tying your shoe to obtain relief from the Pigford Consent Decree, the actual wording of the Consent Decree gave my husband and me grave reservations. After consulting with our present counsel, we made the decision to opt out of the Pigford class.
Page 140 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Unfortunately, the United States Congress, the Federal courts, and the attorneys handling the Pigford case hailed it as the savior of black farmers in the media. This widely held perception of the case would be proven to be far from the truth. The high denial rates, the lack of adequate change in USDA policies and procedures, and the failure of the USDA and its Office of Civil Rights and Office of General Counsel to prevent ongoing acts of discrimination and protect the black farmers against retaliation demonstrate the shortcomings of the Pigford Consent Decree. The primary goal of the Pigford Consent Decree was to pay black farmers quickly without much discussion about how USDA would change its practices to ensure zero tolerance for acts of discrimination and the employees who perpetuate those illegal acts.
In contrast the Wise v. Veneman, 00 (JR) 2508 (D.C. D.C), national class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of African-American farmers and women farmers to address the problems that Pigford failed to reach. While it is true that the named lead plaintiffs in Wise seek monetary damages as compensation for our individual cases, this case has been filed to address the systemic nature of discrimination that pervades USDA. Our attorneys advised us early on that the goal of this case is to require USDA to implement meaningful change in the manner in which it deals with African-American and women farmers. Upon information and belief, few, if any, employees at USDA have been removed from the their positions for violations of family farmers civil rights.
The Wise lawsuit seeks to enjoin the USDA from continuing to operate a federally funded system that rewards wrongdoers for punishing, terrorizing, and otherwise disenfranchising women and racial minorities. The new suit would appoint a special master to oversee the change necessary to ensure that when I, as an African-American Woman Farmer, walk into any office of the Farm Service Agency in the United States of American, I will be treated with the same dignity, respect, and opportunity as white males have enjoyed since the founding of this country and the inception of the USDA.
Page 141 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Wise case offers the opportunity to address the fact that county supervisors and/or farm loan specialists, and county committees still meet to discuss the fait of African-American and women farmers. The farm loan specialists and the county committee members are predominantly white males. African-Americans, women, and other minorities are often added to the county committees as advisors without the authority to vote. The farm loan specialists are given unfettered control over the data that is input into the DALR$ program that informs USDA whether a farmer can cash flow and thus whether the farmer should be foreclosed upon. Moreover, that same discretion is afforded to these same individuals who make improper credit decisions and who illegally delay applications as in my case. If the United States Congress can legislate the change necessary at USDA and the USDA would implement the changes necessary to prevent discrimination and provide equal opportunity and access to all, there would be no need for the various national class action lawsuits against the USDA.
What the United States Congress and the USDA can do immediately to address the past and ongoing wrongdoings perpetuated by discriminators
The United States Congress must do several things to protect African-American, women, and minority farmers in the United States. First, the United States Congress must pass legislation that removes the barriers to disciplining and/or terminating Federal career employees that violate the civil rights of United States citizens and residents. Such legislation should also include provisions that address the status of individuals who are allegedly deemed quasi-Federal employees like the former county supervisors at FSA.
Second, the United States Congress should strengthen title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure that when the Federal Government discriminates against its citizenry, the Federal Government will be held accountable for its actions by establishing a private right of action for affected citizens. I have been advised that the Federal Government believes that it is not a recipient of Federal funds. Thus, the Federal Government's position is that it is immune from title VI complaints. The government holds onto this argument despite the fact that each Federal agency has adopted and incorporated the protections of title IV into their policies and procedures.
Page 142 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Third, the United States Congress must pass legislation establishing a national moratorium against the USDA initiated family farm foreclosure for a period of 3 years. A number of my co-plaintiffs and thousands of small family farmers are being foreclosed upon despite the USDA's public statement that it has a goal of maintaining African-American, women, small, and minority farmers. While the USDA has a policy of not foreclosing against Pigford class members that have a pending claim, the USDA is still proceeding with foreclosures against farmers in the judicial and/or administrative process with civil rights complaints. Equally as important, thousands of family farmers are suffering from natural disasters such as drought and floods, as well as economic loss due to historically low commodity prices. Hence, a 3-year moratorium on foreclosures must be initiated.
Fourth, the United States Congress should pass a 3-year moratorium on the USDA administrative offsets for delinquent borrowers and the United States Treasury Department for Federal tax refund offsets for delinquent USDA borrowers. While the Federal Debt Collection Act of 1996 does not preclude the USDA and the Treasury from taking such action, an affirmative statement by the United States Congress would reinforce the agencies ability and resolve to protect its customers. Offset funds are funds that could maintain a small farmer on the brink of folding and allow him/her another year to turn around an undercapitalized farming operation. Therefore, instituting a 3-year moratorium on administrative offsets would allow all farmers the time to regain their financial independence.
Fifth, the United States Congress should pass legislation that requires the USDA to monitor its civil rights performance similar to the provisions of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), 12 U.S.C. 2801 et seq. The imposition of HMDA-type requirements would provide the United States Congress with competent evidence of discrimination or non-discrimination at the USDA.
Having outlined several goals for congressional action that would diminish the necessity for continued litigation against the USDA, I must now turn my attention to affirmative things that the USDA can do to address the rampant discrimination within the agency. First, the USDA must implement stringent policies to address past and present acts of discrimination by its employees and those who are recipients of its funds. Persons who have and continue to discriminate must be disciplined and/or terminated. If these individuals are allowed to remain, they surely should not be allowed to have contact or control over the loans and/or services of the customers whom they have discriminated against.
Page 143 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Second, the USDA should establish a Department of Minority Affairs with sufficient funds to address the needs of minority farmers who have been unable to receive appropriate assistance from the local county Farm Service Agency office. This department should establish regional field offices throughout the country to provide minorities with loan assistance and programs services where the local office has a demonstrated history of not meeting those customers' needs. The department should be dismantled when the USDA has eradicated all vestiges of discrimination in the local county offices.
Third, the USDA must implement a 3-year moratorium on family farm foreclosures and administrative offsets. This action will give the USDA sufficient time to begin the implementation of the necessary changes to ensure equity in program and service delivery.
Fourth, the USDA must establish new programs specifically geared to attract and retain African-American, women, and other minority farmers. These programs must provide incentives for agricultural education at the university level. The programs must also promote and encourage future minority farmers to return to their communities and provide local food security.
Finally, the USDA must issue an unequivocal statement of apology to those African-American, women, and other farmers that have been affected by discrimination within the agency. Such a statement will truly begin the process of healing a nation and an agency divided by race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin.
Statement of Jesus Alvarez
Dear Congressman Goodlatte:
My father, Alfredo Alvarez, and I are Hispanic farmers and residents of your district. We are also plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture as a result of years of systematic and admitted discrimination against minority farmers and ranchers, including Hispanic farmers and ranchers. I along with my father have personally experienced discrimination by the USDA in our efforts to obtain farm loans and to participate in noncredit benefit programs.
Page 144 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For every year, from 1989 to 2001, my father applied for farm loans from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), or its predecessor Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), at both its El Paso, Texas office and its Fort Stockton, Texas office. For the first few years, he had no trouble obtaining the loans and received the funds in a timely fashion.
Starting in 1991, he began to have problems with the loan process. It was at this time that he began dealing with a new loan officer because the previous loan officer (who spoke Spanish) had left the agency. He began to feel that the FSA employees treated him rudely because he did not speak English well. They started to continuously (almost every year) question his farming expertise, and often told him that he probably needed to take farm training courses, even though he had over 20 years of farming experience. In every year from 1991 to 2000, his applications were approved and he received a loan, but it was always for less than the amount he requested.
We also learned that we had to request the loans as such because more than likely we would be asked to review the requests and adjust. Usually, the loan he received was for 20 percent to 25 percent less than the amount requested. When he asked the FSA about this, at first they told him he did not have enough land to support the requested loan amount. In later years, they told him his expenses were now too high to support the loan amount because he had acquired too much land. When the average amount of land was obtained, other issues were encountered. In addition to receiving a smaller loan than he requested, in every year from 1991 to 2000 he experienced extensive delays and obstacles during the loan application process.
During these years, he would file applications in January or February, but would not receive the proceeds until May and sometimes later because of other prerequisites that had to be fulfilled. Prerequisites that the FSA knew were difficult to meet due to our past or current standing with them. Often, the FSA would try to find ways to provide loan funding borderline so that my father could not make utmost use of the money to meet his deadlines but they could still say the loan was obtained in ''a timely manner''. The FSA would almost always tell him he needed to supply more information when he submitted his application.
Page 145 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC He would often go in person to the El Paso, Texas FSA office with his application to ensure that it was complete. Here, the loan officer's representatives would tell him that his application was complete. Then, a few days later he would receive a telephone call or letter saying that Mr. William H. McAnally, the Farm Loan Manager in the main FSA office in Fort Stockton, Texas needed additional information before the application was considered complete for loan review. These delays would continue for months, and usually he would not receive the loan proceeds until May or June, which was well after planting season. Because he almost always received his loans after planting season, he began to lose his leased lands and ended in deeper debt with FSA every year. My father did not have sufficient money to purchase the necessary supplies for planting or pay other expenses. Whatever he could borrow from friends or was given to him by family members served only as a supplement but was not enough to replace timely FSA funding and the landlords also needed their rent money early in the year. As a result, he lost the last 215 acres of his leased land in 2000. In 2001, he submitted a loan application to the FSA, which contained two proposals. The proposals were: (1) to plant pima cotton, which is more profitable; or (2) to plant upland cotton, which is less profitable, as a last resort. He received a verbal and written denial from the FSA, which stated that the proposed plan would not be profitable enough to support a loan. However, by the time the loan application was processed, it was too late in the season to plant pima cotton. As a result, the FSA denied the application, saying that upland cotton was not a profitable crop. Because of the delays he faced in the loan application process from 1991 to 2001 and the treatment he received from some FSA employees, he made several verbal and written complaints to the FSA's main office in Fort Stockton, Texas and with the USDA in Washington.
It was not until recently that that we received a response to his complaints from the USDA in Washington, DC but never reasonable replies or positive alternatives from the county FSA office even though we constantly asked for assistance. All local verbal and written feedback always blamed us for being in the situation we were in. He was never honestly told why it took so long for his loan applications to be processed. If answers were provided, it would always be him the one to cause such delays. We currently have several outstanding civil rights complaints filed with the USDA in Washington DC but only one was acknowledged to. We now believe that whenever we have contacted someone in the USDA above Mr. McAnally regarding our treatment or when we have questioned him on such issues, that he has used his jurisdiction to take adverse action against us. He whom we believed was assisting unconditionally and thought we trusted, is actually the one that is very tactfully using the system we were depending on to help us only to hurt us. It has been declared that he has done so and this could be the explanation to all those obstacles we have encountered. Now, he has accelerated my father's loan payments. On October 17, 2002, we have a meeting with a representative of the National Appeals Division and Mr. McAnally.
Page 146 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To date, his intent is foreclosing on our farm. I was told that if there is an outstanding discrimination compliant with the USDA that they are not allowed to foreclose without performing due diligence. I met with officials from the USDA and was told that Mr. McAnally should not be attempting foreclosure, yet nothing has been done to stop him. I have seen first hand the disparate treatment the Hispanic farmers receive in El Paso County by Mr. McAnally. We are now convinced that Mr. McAnally is and has been notorious for treating Hispanic farmers poorly, like second class citizens. We are not second class citizens. I, along with many other Hispanic farmers proudly served in the military for the United States of America. Currently, some of my family members are still in active duty and are pending orders to report overseas to fight the battles on terrorism. We have also been informed that in the El Paso and other counties, Anglo farmers are given disaster relief payments when their Hispanic farmer neighbors one mile down the road from them are denied or given many excuses not to receive these loans. Furthermore, it has been claimed that acquaintances of FSA representatives have been given first hand preferences for anything they may wish for; such as exceptional loan funding or options to obtain the land that has been foreclosed from the other farmers. When my father obtained a crop disaster program relief payment, he was told by the FSA that those funds would have to be credited back to the FSA in the form of an applied repayment towards the outstanding loans. Later, it was confirmed that arrangements could have been made to allow my father to use those funds towards the next planting season and in a way serve as relief as he had originally requested. It is now clear to us that Anglo farmers receive there funding on a timely manner and are not forced to jump through hoops like the Hispanic farmers do to get FSA funding and debt release. I recently visited Washington DC to take part in the House Agriculture Committee hearings on the USDA's discrimination against minority farmers. This is a positive step towards ridding the USDA of discrimination, but there is still much that needs to be done. Discrimination at the USDA is a matter of grave concern for tens of thousands of other Hispanic farmers. You should be aware that taxpayer dollars earmarked to aid American farmers are largely unavailable to us due to discriminatory practices and policies taking place at the local Farm Services Offices. You should also be aware of the substantial remedial relief that we seek through litigation. I trust that we can count on you to use whatever influence you have to insure that USDA's discrimination against Hispanics comes to an end. There is no room for discrimination at the USDA. Your strong support in this matter will not go unappreciated or unnoticed I can assure you. Farming is in our blood, and we love it. Please help us all from losing our family farms and aid in settling all issues with the FSA. Also, ensure that if these individuals have caused intended harm and distress that they are dealt with accordingly.
Page 147 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I definitely never fell short from defending the freedom of the United States and do not expect that those we are defending will lead us intentionally to failure.
My military family members and I never discriminated against anyone we have defended or gave excuses not to properly fulfill the duties assigned to us.
Statement of Lupe Garcia
Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Clayton and members of this distinguished subcommittee, good morning. My name is Lupe Garcia. I am from Dona Ana County, New Mexico. Indeed, my family came to this area long before the United States existed. I am a third generation, life-long farmer and the lead plaintiff in a class action brought on behalf of Hispanic farmers and ranchers against the United States Department of Agriculture called Garcia v. Veneman. I am also president of the Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers Association, Inc. I welcome and deeply appreciate this opportunity to testify before this subcommittee. I am testifying on behalf of myself and G.A. Garcia & Sons Farm (Garcia & Sons). Also present with me today are 14 other Hispanic farmers who are also parties to the Garcia v. Veneman lawsuit and who like me have first-hand experience with discrimination by USDA in connection with our attempts to participate in USDA farm credit and non-credit benefit programs. They are Al Abeyta, Jesus Alvarez, John Carrillo, Larry Chavarria, Robert Chavarria, Vera Chavez, Jason Chavez, Tyn Davis, David Flores, Gilbert Garcia Jr., Vicky Garza, Lourdes Gonzales, Pete Grijalva Jr and Edward Provencio. In addition to these farmers, also present with me today is Richard Gomez, a former Farmers Home Administration District Director from Colorado.
By way of background, I am 58 years old. I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy and a Master of Science degree in Agronomy, specializing in biochemistry and physiology of pesticide from New Mexico State University. From 19691973, I served as a visiting professor for Oregon State University teaching agronomy in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia and Ecuador under a contract between the University and the United States Agency for International Development. Upon returning from Central America, I resumed farming in partnership with my father and brother as Garcia & Sons. Garcia & Sons owned two farms totaling approximately 626 acres of land until they were foreclosed upon and sold in 1999. The larger of the two farms was approximately 550 acres. We produced chili, onions, lettuce, wheat, corn, cotton, pecans and alfalfa.
Page 148 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In 1999, the appraised value of the land comprising the two farms was $2.4 million and it was sold for $1.075 million, less than half of its appraised value. Ultimately, Garcia & Sons was the victim of both intentional discrimination directed at us because we are Hispanic and a system that placed largely unfettered discretion in USDA county officials whose control over credit, debt servicing and disaster relief determined whether a farming operation such as ours survived or failed.
The subcommittee is no doubt familiar with the secret dismantlement of the enforcement apparatus of the USDA's Office of Civil Rights in the early 1980's and how that fact was concealed for nearly two decades. Upon learning of this, Congress took the unusual step of tolling the 2-year statute of limitations applicable to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act 15 U.S.C. 1691 et seq., thereby allowing farmers to seek damages for injuries arising from discrimination that occurred between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996. The complaint in Garcia v. Veneman was filed on October 13, 2000.
Our case is brought as a class action to remedy years of massive, and admitted, discrimination against minority farmers of Hispanic origin who sought access to USDA loan programs and were denied such access in violation of ECOA. Our complaint covers the period from January 1, 1981 to December 31, 1996 and from October 13, 1998 to the present.
During that period, Garcia & Sons repeatedly applied for operating loans from the FmHA and later the Farm Service Agency. We received operating loans in 1981, 1982 and 1983. After 1983, we were never able to receive another loan from USDA despite the fact that the value of our farms exceeded the debt owed USDA and the local bank, and despite the fact that our farm plans consistently reflected a positive cash flow. Of the 3 years in which FmHA provided us with operating loans, in at least one of these years, 1983, we did not receive the loan until after the planting season and as a result we were unable to obtain adequate fertilizer. In addition, in order to obtain the loans during those 3 years, we were required to secure those loans with collateral worth substantially more than the loans.
Page 149 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When we subsequently encountered difficulties that normally attend farming, FmHA denied us further credit, denied us disaster relief and denied us debt servicing. As a result, we were slowly and systematically drained of operating capital until we lost our farms. For example, in approximately 1984, in addition to the two farms we owned, we rented another farm where we planted approximately 60 acres of chilies. A dam broke flooding that farm and destroying our entire crop. That same year we applied for disaster relief and were advised by a Mr. Grey of the Agriculture Stabilization Committee that we were eligible for the relief. However, Mr. James Frenzy denied our application for disaster relief because allegedly ''we were bad farmers.''
In 1986, we worked with FmHA Loan Specialist Joe Gurule to develop a farm and home plan application for guaranteed loans. During the application process, Mr. Gurule recommended to both the County Loan Officer and the Chief of Agriculture Loans for the State of New Mexico that our farm land could be divided among my father, brother and me thereby increasing the amount that we would be eligible to borrow. Not only did FmHA reject our loan application, but it never informed us of the option of dividing the farm land to increase our credit eligibility. Indeed, we did not learn of that option until 8 years later when we requested a copy of our file from FmHA.
In 1988, another flood destroyed the crops on our 550-acre farm. Again that same year, we applied to USDA for disaster relief. Again, our application was denied. When we appealed to the county office, the county committee members literally laughed in our faces and denied our appeal for relief.
In 1988, we also applied for primary loan servicing. FmHA sat on the application for 2 years before finally denying it. In the 1990's, our farming operation continued to be slowly starved of operating capital. By about 1990, one of our white neighbors felt sufficiently emboldened to tell us that it was only a matter of time before he would own our land.
Page 150 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In 1994, FmHA again refused to work with us on a loan-restructuring plan. Later that year, we appealed FmHA's adverse decision to the National Appeals Division. On appeal, the hearing officer ruled in our favor, holding that we were entitled to loan servicing and long term debt restructuring. Despite our victory, FSA refused to follow the NAD decision and we never received any loan servicing assistance.
During approximately the 199495 time frame, we attended a mediation session with FSA officials, the U.S. Attorney, our lenders' attorneys and our legal counsel. At that session, Mr. Riley, the Chief of Agriculture Loans for the State of New Mexico, stated to everyone present that he ''would not approve anything that involved the Garcias'' and that he would not refinance our loans even if we had a million-dollar cash flow.
In 1998, we sought to sell some of our land to service delinquent debts. Our lenders informed us that the land had to be sold by February 1, to avoid foreclosure. We found a buyer for some of the land. The proceeds of the sale would have allowed us to pay off the bank debt and, with FSA's assistance, we could have refinanced the remaining debt. We applied for the refinancing loan with FSA in early January and informed FSA that we had found a buyer and would submit a letter of intent once the parties completed negotiations. We subsequently faxed the letter of intent to FSA on January 25, for its approval. FSA denied the application two months later, well past the February 1 deadline.
In the end, we lost our farms. To add insult to injury, FSA assisted the Anglo farmers in purchasing our farms at a special master's sale. In fact, one of the purchasers was the same neighbor who years earlier had stated that it would only be a matter of time before he would own our farm. And while we were forced to put up collateral far in excess of the loans we received, I am aware of instances in which Anglo farmers in my community were given loans without any collateral and given loans even though they were delinquent on their FSA loans. In at least one instance of which I am aware, a white farmer who was delinquent on a million dollars in loans was given a $500,000 loan that saved his farm operation.
Page 151 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The USDA harmed my family and me. It also took away my livelihood and slandered my family name in the community. I personally developed health problems due to the stress from fighting with the USDA and the bank for over 13 years. My children's education was hindered, as they could not obtain student loans because of the bankruptcies we were forced to file in order to try to keep our farms. Despite the fact that our farmland was appraised at a value substantially higher than our total debt, the refusal of USDA to service the debt or to release a portion of the collateral to facilitate a restructuring of the debt prevented us from preserving any of our farm land.
Our experience with USDA is by no means unique. As I indicated at the outset, I am accompanied today by other farmers who have similarly been discriminated against by USDA. In addition, as previously noted, I am accompanied by Richard Gomez, a former FmHA District Director for Colorado. Their individual declarations briefly describing their experiences with USDA are attached as exhibits to my testimony. Many additional declarations are available on our website www.garciaclassaction.org.
One might well ask how is such discrimination by a taxpayer-funded Federal department possible in the 21st century. A substantial part of the problem, I believe, lies in the fact that (1) there remains a great deal of discretion on the part of local county officials in implementing both credit and non-credit programs, (2) there is little, if any, accountability on the part of such officials in particular and FSA in general, and (3) there is no transparency with respect to USDA's lending practices. In our own case, the ability of the FSA to ignore the findings of the NAD concerning our right to debt servicing and the refusal to provide loan servicing are but two examples of the discretion that exists at the local level that can literally mean the difference between success and failure of a farming operation. Indeed as we learned in our case, once Mr. Riley had an unfavorable view of a distressed farmer, he could and would put that farmer out of business.
Page 152 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The lack of accountability is also a major problem. That is perhaps best illustrated by our experience with the complaint process. After years of blatant discrimination against Hispanics in the Las Cruces FSA office, we filed a complaint in the fall of 2000. As a result of that complaint, an investigator from the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC, a Mr. Antonio Califas, was sent to Las Cruces to investigate the complaint. As president of the Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, I personally met with Mr. Califas and arranged meetings for him with Hispanic farmers and ranchers. Over a period of months, Mr. Califas made three trips to the Las Cruces area. During one of his visits, Mr. Califas told me that he had discovered evidence of discrimination against Hispanic farmers and ranchers that was worst than the discrimination that he had seen with respect to black farmers in local county offices in the deep South. During his third visit to Las Cruces, Mr. Califas told me that he had been ordered not to conduct any further interviews of Hispanic farmers and ranchers. For approximately 5 days, Mr. Califas sat in his room at the Las Cruces Hilton awaiting further orders, while the many Hispanic farmers I had scheduled to meet with him had to be told to go home. Ultimately, he returned to Washington without conducting any further interviews.
I understand that since that time the USDA has refused to release Mr. Califas's report despite repeated requests by Congressman Reyes. Significantly, I have been advised by farmers who had an opportunity to witness it that since Mr. Califas's investigation, there has been substantial and ongoing destruction of documents by personnel in the Las Cruces FSA loan office. I am further advised that such conduct was in marked contrast to the practice which existed prior to Mr. Califas's investigation, when stacks of records were visible cluttering the office. Such destruction of documents during the pendency of litigation is not only very disturbing, but potentially illegal and clearly a violation of USDA's own regulations. Indeed, ENRON was found guilty of obstruction of justice for such conduct. At USDA, such conduct appears to be not only sanctioned, but encouraged. Indeed, we are advised by our attorneys that despite the pendency of this and other lawsuits, USDA is continuing its routine document destruction.
Page 153 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, the USDA has taken the position that, for purposes of establishing common issues of law or fact for class certification, our attorneys are entitled to review only USDA's centralized computerized databases. We are advised by our attorneys that such databases are absolutely useless as tools for auditing USDA's lending practices, and that the Justice Department lawyers handling the case readily concede that fact. For example, the regulations set forth a number of eligibility criteria for participation in USDA farm credit programs, and FSA is required to advise a borrower as to the reason why the borrower's loan application is denied. Yet, when FSA rejects a loan application, it does not retain in its centralized databases even the ostensible reason why the loan is denied. For a department that collects and maintains as much data as USDA does, there is simply no excuse in the age of high-powered computers and software applications for USDA not to obtain the state of the art technology which would permit it to maintain in a user-friendly, readily accessible database information sufficient to conduct meaningful and relatively inexpensive audits of its lending functions. I am amazed to learn that it appears that FSA deliberately chose to maintain and expand its archaic network in the 1990's rather than secure up-to-date technology. It almost seems that FSA did not want to know what was happening in the county offices. Until steps are taken to insure such transparency with respect to the actual operation of USDA farm credit and non-credit benefit programs, no amount of regulatory reform will be sufficient to insure that the well-documented discrimination that has plagued USDA for decades is finally rooted out once and for all. A critically important step in rooting out that discrimination is to finally achieve the accountability which modern technology easily permits.
Finally, let me offer a few closing comments. While we seek to be compensated for past injuries inflicted upon us by USDA, a much more important purpose of our litigation is to fix once and for all the system for determining eligibility to participate in farm credit and non-credit benefit programs. I am certain I speak for all the Hispanic farmers accompanying me today and the many thousands throughout the country, when I say that we love the land and farming and we want to make certain that our children and our children's children who wish to follow in our footsteps as farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to do so. In fact the number of Hispanics interested in beginning farming is growing. Unless the system is fixed and USDA's well-documented discrimination eradicated once and for all, that opportunity either may well not exist or else a few years from now we will be back in court once again seeking to remedy ongoing discrimination. Currently, our attorneys are trying to come up with remedies that will solve this problem once and for all. While no final set of proposals is currently available, I sincerely believe that such a solution is possible and that Congress has a definite role to play in any such permanent solution. For example, Congress can be instrumental in (1) mandating greater accountability with respect to the operation of USDA credit and non-credit benefit programs, (2) developing objective scoring criteria for credit and benefit eligibility, (3) reducing discretion and the potential for conflicts of interest on this part of local officials, and (4) mandating greater accountability and transparency in connection with the recordkeeping associated with farm credit and non-credit benefit programs. At the core of this effort must be a modernization of the data collection and processing functionwhich could have and should have been done a decade ago. Finally, such measures will not only benefit Hispanic farmers and ranchers, they will also benefit black, white, Native American, and women farmers as well. In short, such measures will benefit all farmers who seek fair and equal access to farm credit and non-credit benefit programs.
Page 154 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Clayton, that concludes my prepared testimony. Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify before this subcommittee.
Statement of Gary R. Grant
Chairman Goodlette and Members of the Committee:
The opportunity to speak before this historic body may satisfy and may signify nothing as with mine and others' timely and emotional pleadings before legislative sub-committees on agriculture regarding black farmers and the Civil Rights Program and farm programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This is my third appearance before such a distinguished legislative committee since 1998 seeking justice and fairness for black farmers. Most black farmers, like myself, come from rural communities where poverty is the infrastructure and racism the tool of governing, and where our desperate existence on small strips of land in the midst of a large land mass owned by whites is controlled and executed by the USDA and our local FmHA/FSA offices. These offices and their administrators are well funded by public Federal dollars, and historically have provided the cutting edge of destruction and with surgical precision, violent attacks against anyone black who wants to farm.
I have come to think of these appearances as some kind of secret rites of passage to join the real American dream. The invitation to join the conversation and debate in this supreme peoples' forum requires personal courage, some measure of intelligence and knowledge of the subject matter, appropriate words and decorum. The schoolboy in me bids ''You are at the seat of protection of individual rights and protection of life and property. Be proud to come and speak out in the sacred place where government guarantees the right to vote and promotes the education of children, safeguards the public health, provides for good roads, supports agricultural progress and upholds the general welfare and justice and fairness for all.''
Page 155 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But after a couple of these appearances with no measurable results, reality sets in and the story becomes as ancient as creation itself.
You cannot come from the DNA of centuries of American slavery without becoming adept in the ways of the powerful slave master. ''Let's see what these black farmers are really up to. Let's determine how long this organization called Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) can run the course of staying together and making a difference. If we give them the runaround long enough, they will eventually grow tired, and begin to fight and tear at each other. Just give them enough time.''
And sure enough, pretty soon we see what we view as the old ''Willie Lynch'' syndrome beginning to take shape and the course of ''divide and conquer'' sets in, and the dismantling of all the progress for which black farmers have struggled.
Until this great legislative committee and other legislative committees, and the U S Congress, understand one significant issue, everything I say here on behalf of the black farmer is an exercise in futility and will mostly fall on deaf ears, and this probably goes for whatever anyone else says to promote justice and fairness for black farmers' all of this is for naught until this one issue is fully grasped: Violence, disparity, and a racial caste system in USDA are omnipresent and a fact of life for black farmers, and consequently for all African Americans. The discrimination and oppression of black farmers is sanctioned by long held racial customs, by a psychological racial sickness and apparently by law, since the methods continue and no aggrieving violation seems punishable.
I speak from the heart and I speak from experience. My parents, Matthew and Florenza Moore Grant both died in the year 2001, 5 months apart, after 25 plus painful and destructive years of fighting with the USDA and the local Halifax County, North Carolina FSA office. My siblings and I long ago deserted our personal dreams and ambitions, created havoc in our own marriages and homes, and suffered irreparable damage to the dreams of our children to take up the struggle with our parents. After all, it was from the land that the six of us had all gone to college, derived our sense of personal freedom and independence, and developed a strong work ethic and desire to serve our community.
Page 156 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As a result of the struggles of our parents to save their land, we saw these two proud and productive individuals develop high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer's, and live out their last few years in a state of psychological trauma, and mostly condemnation from their church and their community because they dared to stand up to the U S government.
We hold the USDA and our FSA officers responsible for their agonizing deaths.
I could go on and speak to the struggles and agonizing existence of other neighboring black farmers in Halifax County, and since the founding of Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFAA), I can speak for black farmers all across this country who were an integral part of the racial experiment by USDA and the local FSA, to keep not only black farmers but all local African Americans in their place.
Such treacherous actions repeated through the thousands of black farm communities in America, particularly the South, yields a movement more powerful and destructive than 911.
Let's review the facts: The United States Department of Agriculture has pledged numerous changes, settled a lawsuit with a class of black farmers and yet the discrimination against black farmers continues to this very day.
Led by the Congressional Black Caucus in 1997, Congress acted to lift a statute of limitations so that black farmers could sue the USDA for its wrongs. That extraordinary action was undertaken so that justice could be served. I am here today to say that, this action failed. The subsequent lawsuit was a sham. I am asking Congress, as representatives of the people, to set the government right. It is past time to act again, to ensure that black farmers receive justice for the past wrongs of the United States government, and to make sure that such injustices stop occurring. In order to meaningfully work towards the justice that has been thus far denied the black farmer, I am making five requests on behalf of black farmers across this country that call for immediate action.
Page 157 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First, do right by the members of the Pigford v. Veneman class action suit. Dan Glickman once said that the lawsuit was ''the Government's greatest effort to compensate black Americans since they were given the hope of 40 acres and a mule after the Civil War.'' (Neely Tucker of the Washington Post, Fayetteville Observer Times, Aug. 18, 2002, 15A). But like the story of the 40 acres and a mule, the farmers involved in Pigford v. Veneman have not received what was promised. The Consent Decree was supposed to help farmers quickly to stabilize their lives, by giving them a claim to a small percentage of what they were rightfully entitled to. $50,000 for the loss of land, a livelihood and a lifetime of stress, is not justice, but it could have been a start. Debt forgiveness for those who have been discriminated against could have helped. Both of these were the modest provisions of Track A. However, even these two meager points have been denied most farmers. Over 40 percent of the class was denied any award. And most of those who prevailed under Track A, received inadequate or no debt relief. The reasons for such denials are often petty. If the black farmer could not find a ''similarly situated white farmer'' who had been given a loan in the year the black farmer was denied, then they lost. In one case that was brought to my attention, because the black farmer incorrectly spelled the name of the white farmer, his claim was denied. Although this is but one example, in general the reasons for claim denials have been equally arbitrary and capricious. But one thing has become clear. Throughout the adjudication process, there has been a rate of denial of 40 percent, well above the level intended by the judge, and seemingly too consistent for mere coincidence. As each round of statistics has been released the denial rate has hovered within 1 percentage point of 40 percent. This seems to indicate that rather than making fair decisions on the merits of individual cases, the government has been following a targeted denial rate.
Why have these injustices in the class actions occurred? Class Council who represented the black farmers has not done an acceptable job. The farmers were not consulted on the provisions of the Consent Decree, and when we saw what Class Council was up to, we asked the judge not to sign the Consent Decree. The judge did no better than the lawyers. He ignored us, just like our lawyers have ignored us, and we are stuck with an unjust, unfair, and unreasonable settlement. While Class Council recently claimed that there was a small group of discontented farmers, I have been in contact with hundreds of farmers who have told the story of ''incompetent and self serving'' legal representation which did not do an adequate job of representing their claims, or of presenting their appeals. This lawsuit did not serve the interests of justice, and while the lawyers got paid, black farmers were driven one step closer to extinction.
Page 158 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My second request is that the United States Department of Agriculture immediately remove the employees who are discriminating. Studies conducted by the government have again and again demonstrated that officials in USDA offices have overtly and malignantly discriminated against black farmers. What has been the outcome of these studies? The 1997 USDA Civil Rights Action Team (CRAT) report says that they have created a system of almost constant reorganization within the USDA, which rather than helping black farmers, merely relocates the racist workers from one division to another (CRAT 1997, 47). The end result actually hides the Civil Rights abuses, and sustains the system. What did the CRAT report propose? Another reorganization.
When addressed with the continued racist practice of USDA employees, Secretary Ann M. Veneman recently stated that there would be additional ''diversity'' training and the formation of a new office for Minority and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers. The problem with workers in the USDA is not that they are culturally unaware, but that they are hatefully racist. The problem of black farmers is not that we don't have an office in the USDA but that USDA employees deny us access to what we are entitled to. Reorganization and retraining cannot solve this type of problem. This problem can only be solved by the removal of the racist employees and severe penalties should be enforced such as denial of pensions and the wealth of benefits associated with their positions.
In the recent past, we are told that USDA has disciplined somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 employees. While USDA does not provide proof or data on the cause of disciplinary action, it is safe to assume that not all were disciplined for actions in discriminating against black farmers. Even if all 200 plus were disciplined for racist action that would only be a small drop in the bucket. Over 21,000 black farmers joined the Pigford v. Veneman and an additional 60,000 plus farmers missed filing for the class because the USDA refused to cooperate in notifying farmers. That is a total of over 81,000 black farmers who have brought claims of discrimination against the USDA (not to mention the numbers of Latino, Native American and women farmers, and yes, some USDA employees, who have also made similar claims), which means that each of the 200 employees would have had to discriminate against over 400 black farmers. When I have pressed the USDA on these allegations, I have been told that the problem is again being investigated, again committees have been formed and again processes will be reviewed. In essence, I have been told the problem will be solved ''in due time.'' But due time for the American government to end racism occurred in 1776. Now is not the time for more investigation, review, and analysis. Action must be taken or do we take on the same role as the Catholic Church, where the only corrective action was to remove offending priest to another location and another church, so that the priests could have license to continue their offending and sexual abuse against innocent children and an unknowing public.
Page 159 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Which brings up an important question. Why would black farmers be compelled to take over a Federal Farm Service Agency office? Because they have been left with no other choice. Farmers are generally conservative people; more interested in cotton yields than picket signs. But because black farmers have been confronted with injustice all of their lives, and people in the state houses and here on Capitol Hill are reviewing and consulting and doing whatever, except solving the problem, we have had to take unprecedented action.
Third, there must be a moratorium on farm foreclosures against black farmers. Until the USDA is made into a just institution, the foreclosure against any black farmer is theft of that farmer's property.
Fourth, the USDA must cease and desist in taking administrative off-sets from farmers and stop taking the tax returns of farmers and applying them to the end of the farmers' loans. Black farmers who have outstanding debt because of discrimination, have had money that they were rightly entitled to receive for a variety of farm programs or their tax returns taken away. This money is then taken off the end of the outstanding loans rather than being given to the farmers. This is absolutely absurd. If the farmers had that money, they could use it to make their farm enterprises more profitable so that they could more effectively pay off their loans or even use it towards paying the currently due amount of their loans. But instead, these farmers never see a dime. While these farmers are searching for justice, their farms are continuously being stolen right out from under their feet.
My final request is that the USDA should settle all claims that remain stuck within administrative process. My family has been in foreclosure since 1976. This struggle cost both of my parents their lives, and yet the USDA has not been able to settle our case. We have been in the ''administrative process'' for over 20 years and still there is no resolution. My family is not alone. When the black farmers and Agriculturalists Association met with Ann Veneman this summer, we demanded the settlement of four such cases. Today, three of these cases, those of Matthew and Florenza Moore Grant (deceased), Dexter Davis, and the case of Howard Coates (deceased) have not been settled. This is ongoing proof that black farmers have no recourse to justice within the USDA, just as the Pigford v. Veneman case has shown that black farmers have no access to justice through the courts.
Page 160 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like to close by asking the committee to step back and look at the world around them. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said ''We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor.'' Are we not still deluding ourselves to believe that agribusiness has grown out of the myths of economic competitiveness and hard work, rather than out of the theft of land from black farmers and other poor farmers?
Ebonically speaking, and as we say in the black community, ''de-nial'' is not just a river in Egypt. The time has come for you and the U S government to stop deluding yourselves and start working to make a just system for all farmers at USDA and the local FSA offices.
At the same time that the U.S. government concerns itself with foreign policy, wondering whether or not Iraq has complied with United Nations declarations, the government loses credibility and all moral authority, by allowing the gross miscarriage of justice against black farmers to continue. Instead looking to set up another committee, establish another office, or review the process further, please act immediately upon the requests of black farmers, which have already been substantiated by decades of documentation, study, review and evaluation. The research has been done and now is the time to act.
Many of Americans black farmers have served as members of the U S Military. They take their service and defending of this nation seriously. But it is difficult for American black farmers to take stands of patriotism, to salute the flag of ''one nation, under God,'' and sing ''America the Beautiful,'' when your hope and ability to make a living at what you love is singled out and slain from every perspective.
As one white administrator in the Halifax County FSA office once told my then 60'ish mother and father in a fertile and an incontrovertible southern accent:
Page 161 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ''Matthew, if you and your people are so unhappy and dissatisfied with the way things are, why don't you just leave farming and go somewhere else?''
I watched my father labor to lift his head and to stand up his 6'1'' frame before his tormentors, and to gather up his file of papers and documents and the last remnants of his hope and self-respect. He signaled to my mother to come on.
As the two of them made their way to a beat up car in the small parking lot, with their six adult children in tow, he spoke with his tear-ridden eyes to our mother, ''Don't worry, Flo, it's going to be alright.''
He looked at us hovered around and said, ''We ain't going to ever crawl under no rock just because the white man says so. Look to the hills for your strength, but don't forget to remember, black folks built this country with a lotta blood and tears. You deserve better. Don't stop until you get what you deserve.''
Again, this experience can be duplicated a hundred thousand times. Black farmers in our movement have made the same clarion call, and have taught their children and grandchildren the same.