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USDA reaches $1.25 billion settlement in black farmer discrimination case

[JURIST] The US Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Justice (DOJ) [official websites] on Thursday announced [press release] a $1.25 billion settlement for African American farmers claiming they suffered racial discrimination in USDA loan programs. The settlement arises from the Pigford Case [CRS backgrounder, PDF], a class-action suit that was re-opened with the passage [JURIST report] of a 2008 Farm Bill [HR 6124 materials] to farmers left out of a 1999 settlement after missing a filing deadline and to thousands more who argued that the terms of the settlement were inadequate. Under the terms of the new settlement, individual farmers may demonstrate their entitlement to relief through a non-judicial claims process, and:

claimants who establish their credit-related claims will be entitled to receive up to $50,000 and debt relief. A separate track may provide actual damages of up to $250,000 through a more rigorous process. The actual value of awards may be reduced based on the total amount of funds made available and the number of successful claims.

In addition to the settlement, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack [official profile] said the USDA is implementing "a comprehensive program to take definitive action to move USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider."

The Virginia-based National Black Farmers Association was allowed to proceed [JURIST report] with this suit because the Farm Bill included a provision [AP file report] that expressly permitted new claims of improper discrimination in the allocation of USDA resources, including loans, disaster relief, and other resources. In 1997, black farmers alleged in Pigford v. Glickman [BFAA backgrounder] that they were being denied USDA farm loans or forced to wait longer for loan approval than were non-minority farmers. The case was settled, and the court approved a consent decree, which set up a two-track dispute resolution system.

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