Statement by the President on Court Approval of Settlement of Native American Farmers Lawsuit Against USDA
WASHINGTON - The U.S. District Court approved the settlement reached by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice with the plaintiffs in the Keepseagle class action lawsuit. This is yet another important step forward in addressing an unfortunate chapter in USDA’s civil rights history.
This settlement would not have been reached without the leadership of Secretary Vilsack and Attorney General Holder, and I want to thank them both for their hard work on behalf of Native American farmers. Today’s approval of the settlement will help strengthen our nation to nation relationship with Indian Country and reinforce the idea that all citizens have a right to be treated fairly by their government.
In Homestead, Florida, as part of continued efforts to close the chapter on allegations of past discrimination at USDA, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Fred Pfaeffle held outreach meetings in Kissimmee and Homestead with farmers and ranchers to talk about the process that has been put in place to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who assert that they were discriminated against when seeking USDA farm loans.
"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 women 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."
The program USDA announced earlier this year with the Department of Justice provides up to $50,000 for each Hispanic or woman farmer who can show that USDA denied them a loan or loan servicing for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000. This claims process offers a streamlined alternative to litigation and provides at least $1.33 billion in compensation, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief to eligible Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers. Hispanic or women farmers who provide additional proof and meet other requirements can receive a $50,000 reward. Successful claimants are also eligible for funds 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. Participation is voluntary, and 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.
Today's event is part of a series of outreach meetings that are being held across the country to let Hispanic and women farmers or ranchers know about this process. Potential claimants who were unable to attend today's event, can register to receive a claims package by calling the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429 or visiting www.farmerclaims.gov.
Under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack, USDA is addressing civil rights complaints that go back decades and through these outreach meetings, we are taking steps towards achieving that goal. USDA is committed to resolving allegations of past discrimination and ushering in "a new era of civil rights" for the Department. In February 2010, the Secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers.