Whether as heads of corporations or government agencies, white executives can be counted upon to grovel if they or their organizations stand accused of discrimination. Such especially is the case with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, whose capacity for fecklessness in the face of his accusers is almost limitless. And not for the first time, his timidity will cost taxpayers. On Monday, September 24, Vilsack announced that Hispanic and women farmers who believe they were unjustly denied grants or credit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can file claims over a six-month period, effective immediately, for cash awards and/or tax relief totaling at least $1.33 billion, plus up to $160 million in debt relief.
When Congress last November approved $1.15 billion to settle residual claims of racial discrimination by black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), supporters lauded the vote and President Obama's signature the following month. This, they said, was justice belatedly done. Yet critics justifiably have argued that the class-action suit rests on an edifice of fraud. One of them, a member of Congress, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is taking action. He's lined up a pair of unnamed witnesses, one a black farmer and the other a longtime USDA employee, willing to tell all. Early this month, Rep. King announced these individuals indicated a willingness to reveal to Congress that plaintiffs' attorneys engaged in an unscrupulous campaign to sign up co-plaintiffs, many of whom never farmed in their lives. The issue now is whether he can persuade his colleagues to hold a hearing.