Albuquerque, Jun 21, 2011 -- The Obama Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are committed to resolving all claims of past discrimination by USDA in order to close an unfortunate and regrettable chapter in the Department's history when a number of farmers and ranchers were denied USDA assistance based on their race or gender.
The United States Government recently established a claims process to make available $1.33 billion or more to Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege discrimination by the USDA in making or servicing farm loans during certain periods between 1981 and 2000.
In recent years, federal courts would not certify class action lawsuits brought by Hispanic and women farmers. Consequently, individual farmers were left with just one option: to file their claims individually through the Federal court system – an often lengthy, complicated and expensive process. USDA and the Department of Justice developed a claims process intended to be simpler and more streamlined. Claimants will have 180 days from the opening date of the claims period in which to file a complete Claims Package.
Applicants who qualify and submit a timely claim could receive an award of up to $50,000 in cash. USDA also provides a total of up to $160 million in debt relief to successful claimants who currently owe the USDA money for eligible farm loans. Successful claimants may receive an additional amount equal to 25 percent of the combined cash award plus debt relief, to help pay Federal taxes that may be owed. Claims will be decided by an impartial claims adjudicator with independent decision-making authority.
Those that experienced discrimination and have questions about the claims process or wish to register to receive a claims package should call the Farmer and Rancher Claims Call Center at 1-888-508-4429 or visit www.farmerclaims.gov.
As part of the claims process, USDA and its state offices will conduct extensive outreach and public notice efforts to Hispanic and women farmer communities so that all eligible farmers and ranchers are aware of the process and are afforded an opportunity to participate.
Under the leadership of President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA is working to address civil rights complaints that go back decades. In 2010, settlements were reached with African American farmers and Native American farmers. With extensive outreach efforts around all of these settlements we are taking steps towards achieving a goal of resolving allegations of past discrimination and ushering in a new era of civil rights for the USDA.
USDA firmly believes that every farmer and rancher should be treated equally and fairly. Never again should hard-working American farmers and ranchers face economic hardship because they were denied a loan or other financial assistance from USDA due to their race or gender.
Terry Brunner is the New Mexico State Director for USDA Rural Development. He also serves as head of the State’s USDA Food and Agriculture Council.