If all goes according to plan, Congress will finalize settlements in two long-running class action suits against the federal government this week.
The two settlements — called Pigford and Cobell after the lead plaintiffs in the respective suits — were inserted last week into a measure that would extend unemployment benefits, Medicare reimbursements and several tax credits that expired at the end of last year. Tucked into the legislation is a provision that would provide $4.5 billion to settle both lawsuits.
In the Pigford case, the Obama administration announced in February that it had reached a $1.25 billion settlement with African American farmers who alleged that they suffered racial discrimination in U.S. Department of Agriculture farm loan programs. About $100 million were appropriated by Congress in the 2008 farm bill. The remaining $1.15 billion will go toward compensating black farmers who missed filing deadlines and were left out of an original 1999 settlement, in which the government agreed to pay farmers for past discrimination in lending and other USDA programs.
The Cobell case involves a class-action lawsuit brought by American Indians over the Interior Department’s handling of individual Indian trust fund accounts. The Justice Department announced in December that it had reached a $3.4 billion settlement in the Cobell case. That settlement agreement required Congress to pass legislation authorizing payment to the plaintiffs by Dec. 31. The deadline has since been extended twice until May 31.
The House is expected to take up the tax legislation as soon as Tuesday. The Senate plans to consider the measure later this week before it leaves for a week-long Memorial Day recess.