In a statement earlier this week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the settlement ceiling for Hispanic and women farmers involved in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been raised to $250,000 (an increase from the previous amount of $50,000).
The lawsuits, which have been tied up in legal decisions for over a year, stem from the 1980s. Plaintiffs claimed that the USDA issued farm loans discriminatorily, denying loans to Hispanic farmers as well as female farmers.
The USDA has already settled a similar lawsuit filed by African American farmers who claimed that they faced the same discriminatory treatment by USDA loan officers.
The settlement program was announced in February 2011. Up to $1.33 billion is available to eligible Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who agree to settle voluntarily their claims. Participation is not compulsory and farmers are still able to pursue their claims through the court system.
In his statement announcing the increased ceiling, Vilsack reiterated his commitment to diversity in the USDA. “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,” he said. “Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege past discrimination are encouraged to participate in an improved claims process.”
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer