The federal government has put the brakes on payments by the Judgment Fund to resolve lawsuits against federal agencies, a review of government records shows.
The last payment from the fund went out on September 27, according to records in the fund's data base. The Judgment Fund itself isn't subject to the shutdown - it's a "permanent, indefinite appropriation to pay judicially and administratively ordered monetary awards against the United States," according to its website.
But the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service, which administers the fund, is shuttered with the exception of a few limited activities, such as cash forecasting and publication of the Daily Treasury Statement, according to the department’s website. Employees at the Judgment Fund could not be reached by telephone or email.
Last year, the federal government spent more than $4 billion to resolve more than 7,000 lawsuits. The Judgment Fund typically sends out about two dozen payments a day ranging from less than $1 to more than $1 million.
The last payment the fund made on September 27 was a $2.8 million check to the family of Francisco Mujica De Leon, who was interim director of Puerto Rico's Department of Justice Organized Crime Office. He was killed when flying as a passenger in a Puerto Rico National Guard helicopter that crashed.
Another payment made under the wire went to a group of 17,620 black farmers, who are owed $1.25 billion from the Agriculture Department for alleged discrimination in federal farm lending programs. On August 23, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman gave the parties 20 days to give the Treasury Department “all necessary forms and documentation to direct a payment.” The Judgment Fund released the money more than a year ago, but no payments could be made until all the claims were decided. The farmers are now receiving checks.
“It has been a long trying process, but after all the year of fighting, this is what it is all about—a payout for deserving black farmers,” said John Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, in a statement. “The long awaited release of the settlement checks is the final step in a truly historic journey.”
Once the government is open, it’s still not clear how long it will take the Judgment Fund to process payments. The fund on its website states, “Recent circumstances have negatively impacted both our staffing and our system resources” and that payments may take as long as eight – 12 weeks to process, compared to the usual four to six weeks.