Looking at USDA settlement of discrimination suits
Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege discrimination by the USDA in past decades can file claims until March 25, 2013. Some critics don’t like the USDA settling discrimination suits, especially if settled like the second black farmer Pigford II settlement.
"Hispanic and women farmers who believe they have faced discriminatory practices from the USDA must file a claim by March 25 in order to have a chance to receive a cash payment or loan forgiveness," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack this week. "The opening of this claims process is part of USDA's ongoing efforts to correct the wrongs of the past and ensure fair treatment to all current and future customers."
The process offers a voluntary alternative to having the USDA taken to court under litigation for each Hispanic or female farmer and rancher who “can prove that USDA denied their applications for loan or loan servicing assistance for discriminatory reasons” during the time period between 1981 and 2000.
In the political climate of the last few years, there are opponents to the USDA admitting possible discrimination for Hispanics, females and blacks, and some with strong beliefs suggest the settlements are a way of buying support and votes. There are claims of fraud in the settlement with black farmers.
As for the Hispanic and female settlement, it was first announced in February 2011 that the voluntary claims process would make available at least $1.33 billion for cash awards and tax relief payments, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief.
USDA announced that independent legal services companies will administer the claims process and adjudicate the claims. Although there are no filing fees to participate and a lawyer is not required to participate in the claims process, persons seeking legal advice may contact a lawyer or other legal services provider.
The USDA news release provided a positive spin to Secretary Vilsack’s leadership. “USDA has instituted a comprehensive plan to strengthen the department as a model service provider and to ensure that every farmer and rancher is treated equally and fairly as part of ‘a new era of civil rights’ at USDA. This Administration has made it a priority to resolve all of the past program class action civil rights cases facing the department, and today's announcement is another major step towards achieving that goal.”
The second settlement for blacks occurred in February 2010 when the USDA announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, there was the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers. Both of those settlements have since received court approval.
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