February 28, 2011
On Friday February 25, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Assistant Attorney General Tony West announced the establishment of a program to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who assert that they were discriminated against when seeking USDA farm loans.
The program provides up to $50,000 for each Hispanic or woman farmer who can demonstrate that USDA denied them a loan or loan servicing for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000, with the total payments limited to $1.3 billion. Hispanic or female farmers who provide additional proof and meet other requirements can receive a $50,000 award. Successful claimants are also eligible for funds to pay the taxes on their awards and for forgiveness of certain existing USDA loans up to a total of $160 million.
There are no filing fees or other costs to claimants to participate in the program. Participation is voluntary, and individuals who opt not to participate are not precluded by the program from filing a complaint in court.
The money for the settlements would come from the Justice Department’s Judgment Fund, which is used to pay most legal cases the government loses and would not have to be appropriated by Congress, as it was to settle the black farmers’ case known as Pigford II last year.
USDA is also launching an outreach effort to potential claimants that include a call center for farmers and ranchers, a website, public service announcements, and in-person meetings around the country. Individuals interested in participating in the claims process may register to receive a claims package, or may obtain more information, by visiting the new Women and Hispanic Claims Program website. Beginning February 25, 2011, individuals can also register to receive a claims package by calling the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429.
The Obama Administration has expressed a commitment to resolving all remaining claims of past discrimination against USDA. In February 2010, the Secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers.
According to The Hagstrom Report, John Zippert, chairman of the Rural Coalition, which represents more than 60 community-based organizations serving producers of color, said that while he is encouraged that the government is moving toward resolution of the claims, the process remains problematic.
“Our initial fear is that it will be very difficult for many producers who suffered discrimination to meet the documentation requirements with records that may be 20 or 30 years old, and without any apparent provision to retain attorneys,” Zippert said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs signaled they were not yet satisfied with the announcement because the settlement does not match earlier settlements for black and Native American farmers, The Hagstrom Report adds.
Read the full USDA’s announcement here
Audio and video public service announcements in English and Spanish from Secretary Vilsack and downloadable print and web banner ads on the Hispanic and women farmer claims process are available here.