The Pigford scandal is big enough that there’s no reason to overstate the case or get the facts wrong. Understanding what actually happened should be sufficient to make anyone deeply troubled.
One common misconception is that Pigford is about people who defrauded the government by pretending to be farmers. From the research I’ve done, there’s almost nobody who pretended to be a farmer. The shocking truth is that you didn’t have to fake a farming resume to collect $50,000 — all you had to do was to make a credible enough claim that you “attempted to farm.”
This category of “attempted to farm” was a huge slap in the face to the bona fide black farmers that the Pigford case was supposed to help. Many of these farmers faced real discrimination at the hands of the USDA and it’s clear they had legitimate claims.
In this video clip, you’ll hear what happened right before the consent decree was issued. It’s a class action bait-and-switch. This is Tom Burrell, head of the Black Farmer Agricultural Association, Inc.:
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The political insiders and trial lawyers who set up Pigford set the bar for proving that you “attempted to farm” was much lower than it was for proving you actually were a farmer. This meant that if you wanted a check, the smart route to go was to claim you attempted to farm.
Again, let’s be careful to not overstate the case here — it was not the case that anyone could go in and just get a check. There were some small hurdles and a person who knew nothing at all about farming was unlikely to prevail. But anyone who took the time for a quick study session or had even a small bit of background in farming could skate through the system undetected.