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Agriculture News As It Happens

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USDA increases claim size for female and Hispanic farmers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the Obama administration has increased the maximum size of claims that female and Hispanic farmers and ranchers can get under a process instituted to settle the Love and Garcia cases for past discrimination, but reaction to the offer was mixed.

The new claims process established by USDA and the Justice Department increases the maximum cash recovery to $250,000, instead of $50,000, USDA said in a news release.

“The process offers a streamlined alternative to litigation for each Hispanic or woman farmer and rancher who can prove that USDA denied their loan or loan servicing for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000,” a news statement said.

“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 or other costs to claimants to participate in the program. Participation is voluntary, and the program does not preclude individuals who opt not to participate from pursuing their cases in court.”

"The Obama administration has made it a priority to resolve all claims of past discrimination at USDA, and we are committed to closing this sad chapter in USDA's history," Vilsack said in a news release. "Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege past discrimination are encouraged to participate in an improved claims process in which they have the opportunity to recover up to $250,000 in damages."

The National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association and the Rural Coalition expressed “a deep sentiment of disappointment” that the courts denied class certification in both the Garcia and Love cases.

Advocates for the female and Hispanic farmers had complained that the settlements for black and Indian farmers to settle the Pigford and Keepseagle cases were more generous.

However, a news release said the group would “applaud today’s announcement,” noting that the coalition “has worked tirelessly to advocate an acceptable and fair resolution that assures equality, justice and dignity for Latino and women producers.”

Rudy Arredondo, president of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, said Vilsack had expressed a “commitment to equitable treatment of all ethnic stakeholder communities involved in agriculture.”

Rural Coalition Chairperson John Zippert said his group was “encouraged and pleased that the USDA has responded to the concerns of Hispanic farmers that their settlement be as equitable as possible, and parallels as closely as possible the settlements in the other cases. We also feel that President Obama has fulfilled his promise to minority farmers by settling all these cases in a meaningful way.”

Marc Fleischaker, an attorney with Arent & Fox who represents the female farmers in the Love case, said his firm would advise some clients to sign up for the program, and noted that it appreciates the positive changes.

“However, there continue to be issues that will confuse and frustrate some women and that need to be changed or clarified,” Fleischaker said. “There is simply no reason for the program not to be at least equivalent to the program for African American and Native American farmers, and we are going to continue to work to make sure that is the case.”