Women, Hispanic Farmers Claim Continued Discrimination

Even after the US Department of Agriculture agreed to settle a series of lawsuits initiated by women and Hispanic farmers (who alleged that the agency systematically denied them access to loans), these farmers continue to claim that they face discrimination by the USDA.

The lawsuits are only a small part of a concerted effort to undo wrongs inflicted on farmers from 20 to 30 years ago. In the 1980s and 1990s, minority farmers frequently received limited aid from USDA officials. Farmers were denied access to loans, forced to accept overly harsh terms, or were not told of loan forgiveness programs.

Federal investigations confirmed the allegations from these farmers. In 2010, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made a major move to right these past wrongs. In testimony to Congress, Vilsack stated, “We are very committed trying to get these cases settled and closing this rather sordid chapter of USDA history.”

The settlements offered by the USDA, however, are themselves problematic, some farmers claim. Most importantly, the settlement requirements are unnecessarily bureaucratic according to some (sometimes requiring decades old documents that even the USDA does not keep). In addition, women and Hispanic farmers are upset that the terms they are being offered differ significantly from black and Native American farmers who alleged the same discrimination (women and Hispanics, for example, have a higher burden of proof and do not have access to free legal aid).

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer