The USDA is offering up to $1.3 billion in settlements to Hispanic and women farmers who claim discrimination over loans and other assistance between 1981 and 2000, according to www.farmerclaims.gov.
The USDA announced on Feb. 25 it would pay up to $50,000 each to Hispanic farmers who can prove wrongful treatment.
This lawsuit comes after the government settled with American Indians over similar discrimination claims last fall and with black farmers in a second round of settlements, according to the Associated Press. Black farmers received about $2.5 billion in compensation. The nearly 900 Native American farmers who brought the class-action lawsuit in 1999 were paid $680 million in damages and $80 million of outstanding farm loan debt, according to the Washington Post. Hispanic women farmers claim that loans and other assistance routinely went to whites.
In a phone conversation between the Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week, Vilsack said farmers can choose to accept the settlement money or continue with their court case.
"We've made an effort to turn the page on what has been a tough chapter for us in civil rights," Vilsack told the Sun-News. "This is an effort to give folks a closure or an option for closure."
Hispanics and female farmers are eligible to pursue a claim under these circumstances: if they applied for a farm loan or farm-loan servicing from the USDA during that period; if the loan was denied, provided late, approved for a lesser amount than requested, approved with restrictive conditions, or the USDA failed to provide an appropriate loan service; and, lastly, if these actions occurred because the farmers were Hispanic or female.
Successful claimants also may receive an additional 25 percent of the combined cash award plus debt relief to help pay federal taxes that may be owed, according to https://farmerclaims.gov. The Farmer Claims website has more information on submitting a claim against the USDA.
In a USDA blog, Vilsack wrote: "We are continuing work to build a new era for civil rights at USDA: correcting our past errors, learning from our mistakes, and outlining definitive action to ensure there will be no missteps in the future. The process has been long and often difficult, but my staff and I have been working hard every day to make USDA a model employer and premier service provider that treats every customer and employee fairly, with dignity and respect."
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