Betty Anderson, public affairs specialist at New Hampshire's Natural Resources Conservation Service, recently asked for help to get the word out to persons who many have been affected by U.S. Department of Agriculture discrimination in the past. It's part of the Obama Administration's effort to bring closure to longstanding claims of discrimination in USDA program delivery.
Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege past discrimination can now participate in a claims process for an opportunity to receive compensation, according to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. In brief, it's a streamlined alternative to litigation and provides at least $1.33 billion in compensation, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief.
The program provides up to $50,000 for Hispanic or women farmers who can provide proof that USDA denied them a loan or loan servicing for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000.
USDA will also provide a total of up to $160 million in debt relief to successful claimants who currently owe USDA money for eligible farm loans. Successful claimants may also receive an additional amount, equal to 25% of the combined cash award plus debt relief, to help pay federal taxes that may be owed.
There are two qualifiers: 1) If you are Hispanic or female, you farmed or attempted to farm between January 1, 1981, and December 31, 1996, or between October 13, 1998, and October 13, 2000; and 2) You were the owner-operator or a tenant-operator of farm property or attempted to own or lease farm land during the same time periods.
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.
Individuals interested in participating in the claims process may register to receive a claims package, or may obtain more information, by visiting http://www.farmerclaims.gov/. Or call the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429.
USDA cannot provide legal advice to potential claimants. Persons seeking legal advice may contact a lawyer or other legal services provider.