After The New York Times broke their story on Pigford, supporters of the farmers settlements have fired back with a defense they’ve used for years: that the settlements must have been fair since 40% of them were initially rejected. They believe that this rejection rate shows that not everyone was given a $50,000 check and therefore the settlement was honest.
This claim is called into question, however, by statements made by Helena Pitcock, a former USDA farm loan manager in Kentucky. Mrs. Pitcock said on the record that she was told that the Clinton administration mandated 40% rejections, not based on the merits of the settlement claims, but as a rule.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a group started in 1967, and a long-time booster of the Pigford settlement issued a press release entitled “Sharon LaFraniere got it Wrong!” LaFraniere is the reporter behind the New York Times article and the release attempted to rebut the contention that there was extensive fraud in the settlement. One section of their response stated:
Article: “Justice department lawyers worried about false claims….it was better to err on the side of giving money to people…”
Response: This was no giveaway. Initially 40% of all claims were denied. Some of these people appealed and, in the end, 30% of all claims were denied.
The 40% number is verified in this report by the Office of the Monitor, who oversaw the Pigford claims process. A chart shows that 21,597 claims were approved and 12,951 were denied — 60% approved, 40% denied.
However, several sources have told me off the record that the claims process in Pigford was rigged and that the people gong through the claims were told to approve 60% and reject 40%, regardless of the merits of the cases. These sources did not want to be quoted for fear of retribution by the USDA. The New York Times had to deal with similar constraint; people are afraid to talk.
In 2012, I went to Kentucky and interviewed retired USDA official Helena Pitcock, who became the first person to go on the record about this accusation. Although she did not personally witness the 60/40 mandate that she said came from the Clinton administration, her allegation was clear and the source she cites, but does not publicly name, is a confirmed USDA employee.
In the interview, Mrs. Pitcock says:
They were told by a high official from the White House, the Clinton administration, “This is what you will do. I want these settled. Sixty percent of the claims will be approved, you will deny forty percent.”
The shocking allegation could be proved or disproved with hearings on Pigford fraud.