WASHINGTON The Senate unanimously approved a bill on Friday funding $1.15 billion in compensation to black farmers in a decades-old bias lawsuit that is one of the largest civil rights settlements in U.S. history.
The Pigford v. Glickman case was settled in 1999 and provided that qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims they were denied farm loans or subjected to longer waits for loan approval because of racism.
But tens of thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline. The settlement in Pigford II, reached in February, allowed those farmers to pursue their claims. The lawsuit was named for North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford.
The Senate bill, totaling $4.6 billion, includes compensation for American Indians in a class-action lawsuit against the Interior Department over the mismanagement of Indian trust fund accounts.
"This is a huge, huge victory for myself and black farmers, many of whom have died waiting for justice," said John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association. "I have been working on this thing for 26 years. I've been hearing 'no' for so very long."
The measure must still be approved by the House of Representatives before the end of the "lame-duck" session of the outgoing Congress.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the Senate's move.
"I urge the House to move forward with this legislation as they did earlier this year, and I look forward to signing it into law," Obama said in a statement.
Boyd said Senate approval was the biggest hurdle, noting it was the 10th time the funding measure had come before the Senate.
The House approved the funds in May as part of a different bill, but the Senate left for a recess without passing it.
"Black farmers and Native American trust account holders have had to wait a long time for justice, but now it will finally be served," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement. "I am heartened that Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to deliver the settlement that these men and women deserve."
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Peter Cooney)