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News Briefs II

USDA Settlement With Black Farmers Is Tentatively Approved

The Washington Post

A federal judge tentatively approved Tuesday a historic agreement requiring the Department of Agriculture to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to black farmers who say they were denied government loans and other assistance because of their race.

The agreement settles a class-action lawsuit filed in 1997 by more than 1,000 black farmers and marks the first time the government has agreed to compensate them as a group for racial bias that has been documented by various federal officials for years. Discrimination by USDA officials has been cited by civil rights advocates and others as a major reason the ranks of black farmers has dropped at three times the rate of white farmers. Blacks now account for less than 1 percent of the nation's farmers.

The deal is one of the largest racial discrimination settlements in federal history and puts to rest an issue that has long been a major embarrassment for USDA. The vast agency is derisively referred to as the "last plantation" by many black farmers and by many of the department's own minority employees who see it as a bastion of racial prejudice.

In the end, the agreement could cost the federal government $400 million or more, depending on the number of farmers who step forward with claims. Plaintiff attorneys said that as many as 4,000 claimants roughly one in four of the nation's black farmers could end up taking part in the deal, although that figure is disputed by USDA officials.

Lauryn Hill Leads Surge Of Women in Grammy Nominations

The Washington Post
Los Angeles

Hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill's decision to pursue a solo career apart from the Fugees paid off Tuesday when she earned a stunning 10 Grammy nominations for her solo debut, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." The critically acclaimed album, which has sold close to 3 million copies, was nominated in such leading categories as album of the year and best R&B album, while Hill was nominated for best new artist and best producer, an award that has never been won by a woman.

As they have in recent years, women dominated the nominations for the recording industry's highest honors. Canadian pop-country singer Shania Twain and bluesy rocker Sheryl Crow each scored six nominations, pop veteran Madonna earned five, and French Canadian diva Celine Dion and young R&B star Brandy had four apiece.

Among male artists, only gospel star Kirk Franklin and country singer Vince Gill earned four nominations each. Twain's husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who produced and co-wrote much of her material, had five nominations, tying with recording engineer Jeff Balding for the most among men.

The 41st annual Grammy Awards, sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, will be televised Feb. 24 by CBS from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.