Black farmers and American Indians who say the United States discriminated against them and took their money for decades are a step closer to winning long-awaited government settlements.
Under legislation passed by the Senate on Friday, black farmers who claim discrimination at the hands of the Agriculture Department would receive almost $1.2 billion. American Indians who say they were swindled out of royalties by the Interior Department would split $3.4 billion. Both cases have languished for more than a decade, and plaintiffs say beneficiaries are dying off.
"The Senate finally did the right thing," said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association. "They stepped up and told the world civil rights still matter in America."
The legislation was approved in the Senate by voice vote Friday and sent to the House. The money had been held up for months in the chamber as Democrats and Republicans squabbled over how to pay for it.
President Barack Obama praised the Senate for finally passing the bill and urged the House to move forward on it. He said his administration is also working to resolve separate lawsuits filed against the department by Hispanic and female farmers.