WASHINGTON (AP) -- Black farmers and American Indians who say the United States discriminated against them and took their money for decades are a step closer to winning long-awaited government settlements.

Under legislation passed by the Senate on Nov. 19, black farmers who claim discrimination at the hands of the Agriculture Department would receive almost $1.2 billion. American Indians who say they were swindled out of royalties by the Interior Department would split $3.4 billion. Both cases have languished for more than a decade, and plaintiffs say beneficiaries are dying off.

"The Senate finally did the right thing," said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association. "They stepped up and told the world civil rights still matter in America."

For the black farmers, it is the second round of funding from a class-action lawsuit originally settled in 1999 over allegations of widespread discrimination by local Agriculture Department offices in awarding loans and other aid. It is known as the Pigford case, named after Timothy Pigford, a black farmer from North Carolina.

The government already has paid out more than $1 billion to about 16,000 black farmers, with most getting about $50,000. The new money is intended for people -- some estimates say 70,000 or 80,000 -- who were denied earlier payments because they missed deadlines for filing. The individual amounts depend on how many claims are successfully filed.

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