The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

USDA promotes settlement offer in Hispanic/women claims

The Obama administration sent high-level officials to Arizona and Florida last week to inform Hispanic and female farmers of its offer to resolve claims of farm loan discrimination, even though cases are still being heard in court.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Ed Avalos held an “outreach meeting” in Phoenix to talk about the filing process last Tuesday, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Fred Pfaeffle held similar meetings in Kissimee and Homestead, Fla., on Thursday and Friday, USDA announced in press release.

“The Obama Administration is committed to resolving all claims of past discrimination at USDA, so we can close this sad chapter in the department's history,” said Pfaeffle. “We want to make sure that any Hispanic or woman farmer or rancher who alleges discrimination is aware of this option to come forward, to have his or her claims heard and to participate in a process to receive compensation.”

USDA did not mention the names of either the Garcia or Love cases in its news releases, and said only that the process was intended to resolve complaints of discrimination by Hispanic and female farmers. The absence of the names would seem to reflect the fact that the cases are still before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and have not been resolved to the satisfaction of the plaintiffs.

Another hearing in the cases is scheduled next month. Lawyers in the cases have not yet agreed to the settlement offer, and how the cases will be resolved is somewhat unclear because the courts did not grant the Hispanic and female farmers the class-action status that black and Native American farmers achieved in their cases.

In a news release, USDA noted that the program announced earlier this year with the Department of Justice provides up to $50,000 for each Hispanic or female farmer who can show that USDA denied them a loan or loan servicing for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000.

The agency also called this claims process “a streamlined alternative to litigation,” saying it provides at least $1.33 billion in compensation, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief to eligible farmers and ranchers.

Hispanic or female farmers who provide additional proof and meet other requirements can receive a $50,000 reward. Successful claimants are also eligible for money to pay the taxes on their awards, and for forgiveness of certain existing USDA loans. There are no filing fees or other costs to claimants to participate in the program, USDA said, and participation is voluntary — individuals who decide not to participate may choose to file a complaint in court.

However, USDA cannot provide legal advice to potential claimants, and persons seeking legal advice may contact a lawyer or other legal services provider, the agency added.

Women and Hispanic Claims Program

Claims packets may be requested at or by calling the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429.