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USDA offers settlements to women and Hispanic farmers over past discrimination
By Pat Andrews
posted Jul 8, 2011 - 5:35:11pm
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reaching out to "close the chapter on allegations that discrimination occurred at USDA in past decades," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Assistant Attorney General Tony West announced.
Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who believed they encountered discrimination when seeking USDA farm loans can take part in a "streamlined alternative to litigation."
The program announced June 22 gives up to $50,000 for each Hispanic or woman farmer who can show that USDA denied them a loan or loan servicing for discriminatory reasons between 1981 and 2000. Those who meet other requirements can receive a $50,000 reward, also.
Those who successfully show discrimination are also eligible for funds to pay the taxes on their awards and for forgiveness of some existing USDA loans.
There are no filing fees or other costs to file a claim in the program.
To register and get a claims package or get more information, go online to the claims center or call the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429.
The USDA will not provide legal advice.
The offer to settle discrimination complaints from female and Hispanic farmers came after the federal government made at least $1.3 billion to settle the complaints. This followed a government settlement with American Indians last fall over claims of rampant and systematic discrimination. Congress also provided more money for settlements for African-Americans with similar complaints.
According to various news reports, attorneys for both women and Hispanic farmers said their clients deserve more than $50,000. Native American farmers were offered up to $250,000 each in settlements.
Unlike the Native and African-American cases, Hispanic and women farmers were denied class status in court, and could not press class-action suits.
Secretary Vilsack said participation in the USDA program is voluntary, and individuals who choose not to participate can still file a complaint in court.
Individual lawsuits are pending in federal court, amid allegations that USDA's office of civil rights was failing to investigate and address complaints of discrimination.
Farmworker Association of Florida Coordinator Tirso Moreno said the USDA discouraged Hispanics from trying to farm, and told Hispanics they were not qualified for programs.The USDA has done little outreach so far, he said, but Moreno has asked a representative to come for a meeting with farmworkers in Volusia, Putnam and Lake counties.
The Farmworker Association has not called for a lawsuit, but, Moreno said, "We have to let the farmers know. They have the option to apply for settlement benefits, or not to agree and go directly and sue."
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