Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announ-ced that Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege discrimination by the USDA in past decades can file claims between Sept. 24 and March 25, 2013.
"Hispanic and women farmers who believe they have faced discriminatory practices from the USDA must file a claim by March 25, 2013, in order to have a chance to receive a cash payment or loan forgiveness," said Secretary Vilsack.
"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 litigation for Hispanic or female farmers and ranchers who can prove that USDA denied their applications for loan or loan servicing assistance for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000.
As announced in February 2011, the voluntary claims process will make available at least $1.33 billion for cash awards and tax relief payments, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief, to eligible Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers. There are no filing fees to participate in the program.
The department will continue reaching out to potential Hispanic and female claimants, around the country to get the word out to individuals who may be eligible for this program so they have the opportunity to participate. Call center representatives can be reached at 1-888-508-4429.
Claimants must register for a claims package (by calling the number or visiting the Web site) and the claims package will be mailed to claimants.
All interested in learning more or receiving information about the claims process and claims packages are encouraged to attend meetings in their communities about the claims process and contact the Web site or claims telephone number.
• Web site: www. farmerclaims.gov
• Phone: 1-888-508-4429
• Claims Period: Sept. 24, 2012-March 25, 2013.
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.
Under 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 this announcement is another major step toward achieving that goal.
In February 2010, the secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers.
Both of those settlements have since received court approval. Unlike the cases brought by African American and Native American farmers, the cases filed by Hispanic and women farmers over a decade ago were not certified as class actions and are still pending in the courts as individual matters.
The claims process provides a voluntary alternative to continuing litigation for Hispanic and female farmers and ranchers who want to use it.
Audio and video public service announcements in English and Spanish from Secretary Vilsack and downloadable print and Web banner ads on the
Hispanic and women farmer claims process are available at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome? contentidonly=true&contentid=PSAs_Print_and_WebBanner_Ads.xml.