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Sowing Seeds of Victory

John Boyd Jr. Gets Farm Bill Appropriation

Correction Appended

Dressed in a dark pinstripe suit with a blue striped shirt and tie, John Boyd Jr. looks the part of Washington insider.

After eight years of knocking on doors on Capitol Hill nearly twice a week, Boyd can walk the walk and talk the talk with the best of them.

But unlike much of K Street, where big retainers and steak dinners are the norm, Boyd isn’t doing it for the money.

For him, it’s personal.

As a soybean, corn and wheat farmer from Baskerville, Va., and the founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, Boyd has made it his mission to get black farmers on equal footing with their white counterparts.

It’s an issue he knows something about, because his story is intertwined with that of the farmers he fights for.

Like many of his 80,000 members, Boyd said the Agriculture Department denied him, without cause, assistance and agricultural loans provided more freely to white farmers. In his case, he said the discrimination occurred for nine years.

That personal experience lead Boyd to play an integral role in securing the biggest Congressional victory in history for black farmers, a $100 million line item in this year’s farm bill that effectively reopened the government’s discrimination settlement with black farmers. And he isn’t letting up.

For example, at 8 a.m. last Tuesday, in the middle of the Fourth of July recess, Boyd was already back on the Hill meeting with staff.

His near-constant presence there has translated into a lot of friends among fellow lobbyists who work similar issues.

“John was just really passionate, and I think when you have the facts behind you and a good way of presenting the facts, it makes a difference,” said Sandra Schubert of the Environmental Working Group, who lobbied with Boyd on other farm bill provisions. “He’s very passionate about the issue and cares very deeply about current farmers and the farmers that were hurt from the past.”

The allocation in the farm bill allows new claims to be brought against the government almost 10 years after the Agriculture Department settled a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of black farmers. Based largely in rural southern areas, the farmers alleged that local USDA offices regularly refused to grant loans and assistance that were afforded to white farmers.

The government had originally awarded $981 million to nearly two-thirds of the 22,500 farmers who filed claims, in most cases tax-free payments of $50,000 per farmer. But nearly 75,000 more farmers came forward with claims after the October 1999 deadline.

Until this year’s farm bill passed on May 22, those farmers had been too late to collect. Since then, however, nearly 800 cases seeking payment have been filed in D.C. federal court. as the law requires for new claims.

While Boyd concedes that the allocation was a victory, it wasn’t everything he was hoping for.

“It’s going to take billions of dollars, not $100 million, to settle with the farmers,” Boyd said. “But I had to take that deal to keep the lawsuit open.”

Boyd’s learning curve on Capitol Hill was fast and hard. When it was clear that tens of thousands of potential claimants would never receive a settlement, Boyd turned his attention to Congress.

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