Land, Loans, But No Litigation

In a “streamlined alternative to litigation”, the USDA has established a claims process that will make more than $1 billion dollars available to women and Hispanic farmers found to have suffered discrimination by the USDA.

Specifically, farmers who submit timely claims alleging discrimination by the USDA in responding to their applications for farm loans or loan servicing during certain periods between 1981 and 2000 are eligible for awards of up to $250,000 in cash.

USDA Secretary Vilsack announced the program early last year, but has not yet opened the claims period. Interested persons can request a Claim Package, which will include forms and instructions for filing a claim, here. (The US Agricultural & Food Law and Policy Blog reports that an informational webinar for attorneys interested in assisting potential claimants will be held on September 13, 2012.)

The USDA’s history of discrimination is not pretty. Early on in his time at the USDA, Secretary Vilsack learned that “of the 14,000+ civil rights program complaints filed at USDA between 2001 and 2008, the Bush Administration [Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights] found merit to only one complaint of program discrimination.” According to the USDA, the Secretary has worked hard to undo the damage: the OASCR has a very comprehensive timeline of Vilsack’s “efforts to address discrimination” at the agency.

The Hispanic and women farmers claims process comes on the heels of the settlement of two other discrimination cases against the USDA: In February 2010, Secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African-American farmers, and in October 2010 came the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers.

For an objective history of civil rights issues at the USDA, you can check out these related GAO reports:

  • GAO-09-650T (April 2009) – Recommendation and Options Available to the New Administration and Congress to Address Long-Standing Civil Rights Issues
  • GAO-09-62 (October 2008) – Recommendations and Options to Address Management Deficiencies in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights,
  • GAO-08-755T (May 2008) – Management of Civil Rights Efforts Continues to be Deficient Despite Years of Attention
  • GAO-03-96 (January 2003) – Department of Agriculture Performance and Accountability Series
  • GAO-02-1124T (September 2002)– Hispanic and Other Minority Farmers Would Benefit from Improvements in the Operations of the Civil Rights Program (testimony but no report/audit conducted).
  • GAO-02-942 (September 2002) Improvements in the Operations of the Civil Rights Program Would Benefit Hispanic and Other Minority Farmers
  • GAO-01-521R (April 2001) – U.S. Department of Agriculture: Resolution of Discrimination Complaints Involving Farm Credit and Payment Programs
  • GAO-01-242 (January 2001) – Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Agriculture
  • T-RCED-00-286 (September 2000) – U.S. Department of Agriculture: Problems in Processing Discrimination Complaints
  • RCED-99-38 (January 1999) – U.S. Department of Agriculture: Problems Continue to Hinder the Timely Processing of Discrimination Complaints

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