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USDA Hispanic and Women Farmers and Ranchers Claims Process

In March, 2015, the Department of Justice submitted a status report on the Hispanic and Women farmers who had filed claims against USDA because of discriminatory practices that included having their loan or loan servicing applications denied because of their race or gender. Of the nearly 54,000 claims filed, approximately 22,000 claims had been deemed complete and were adjudicated. The USDA began mailing the determination letters during the first three weeks in May and the letters either granted approval to the claimants or were denials. The claim award letters of approval granted $50,000 in compensation to the plaintiffs and $12,500 for taxes. The number of women and Hispanic claimants actually receiving the compensation is abysmally small compared to the much larger numbers of farmers who have accused USDA of egregious discriminatory practices.

Allegations of unlawful discrimination against minority and women farmers in the management of USDA programs have been long-standing and well-documented at USDA. This is the third settlement to interest groups that USDA has settled with due to discrimination. The two previous settlements were to Black farmers and Native American farmers. Similarly, women and Hispanics claimed that they were denied loans that were routinely given to White farmers. During the decades of unequal treatment, many of the disadvantaged farmers suffered hardships, lost their homes and land, went bankrupt, ruined their credit or barely eked out a living through farming. Despite attempting to find resolution to past discrimination, many of the current claimants feel the award offered does not compensate for their losses and mistreatment and feel the claims process was unfair and eliminated many applicants who were unfairly treated.

The claimants who were denied or eliminated early in the procedure feel that during the settlement process the government imposed a greater evidentiary burden upon women and Hispanic claimants than on the Black Farmers or Native American farmers. Women and Hispanics had to provide evidence that the USDA discouraged them or denied them a loan by providing a copy of a loan application or a copy of a written complaint that was made to the USDA. The evidence could also include a sworn statement from someone who witnessed the discrimination. In some cases, claimant had to provide evidence of applications that were not given to them and derogatory statements that were directed at them. Despite the higher burden of proof, all of the 54,000 applicants who initially filed felt they had grounds to prove discriminatory behavior and provided either sworn affidavits or paperwork to support their claim.

The settlement period covers from 1981—2000 which means twenty to forty years have passed since most of the discriminatory practices were rampant. The USDA did not keep copies of those who applied for loans and many of the applicants also rid themselves of dated paperwork. During this time, a commissioned study revealed that few appeals were made by minority complainants because (1) the appeal had to be made to the agency that had discriminated against them, (2) because of the slowness of the process, (3) the lack of confidence in the decision makers, (4) the lack of knowledge about the rules, and (5) the significant bureaucracy involved in the process.

The claims application that women and Hispanic farmers had to prepare for the Hispanic and Women Farmers and Ranchers settlement was 16 pages long as compared to the 1 page that was submitted by Black farmers and the Native American farmers. Claimants were referred by USDA to selected attorneys and other agencies that helped with the application process. This also proved to be a problem, because many of the claimants were eliminated early or sent determination letters of denial because of the similarities in the way the claims were written. Although the incidents were individual and different, many of the service providers used a template to write the complaint.

Another indicator that the claims process for women and Hispanics was not fair and equal is that the women and Hispanic farmers had to sign an agreement that the settlement determination was final and they have no option to appeal. The previous settlement agreements allowed the aggrieved parties to appeal the decision made by USDA.

The USDA has already admitted to wrongful acts committed against Hispanic and other minority farmers and women and now they are not being fair or consistent in their settlement procedure. The adjudicators approved only enough claimants to use approximately ½ of the settlement fund of 1.33 billion dollars and 160 million dollars in debt relief, money that was already set aside to address past discrimination. There was enough money allocated to pay each of the more than 22,000 claimants who submitted complete applications. Why did the adjudicators not err on the side of the aggrieved parties and distribute the funds more evenly?

Those discriminated against in pursing their livelihood of farming should not be discriminated against in seeking justice. The USDA or an independent or congressional agency should review the process used to select approved and denied claimants because too many Hispanic and women farmers who were seeking justice have been left out.

The Rainbow Clan Mothers Call to the Four Sacred Winds for Justice is an organization that is subsidiary to the American Indian Mothers, Inc., a national non-profit organizations dedicated to seeking justice for individuals who have been discriminated against by the USDA.
For more information about the movement “The Rainbow Clan Mothers Call to the Four Sacred Winds For Justice” call the national office American Indian Mothers Inc. (AIMI) Beverly Collins- Hall 910-843-9911 or cell 910-734-4185, also ask for contact person and scheduled meetings in your state and local area. PLEASE SIGN PETITION on AIMI Website
American Indian Mothers Inc.
National Media Representative:
Dorscine Spigner Littles, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus

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