September 1, 2014

USDA settles discrimination claims with Hispanic & women farmers

Farmers who are Hispanic, female or both who believe they’ve been discriminated against by the USDA in farm loan programs can now file claims. A class-action lawsuit was rejected but the agency has agreed to make voluntary settlements.

Lynn Hayes, with the Farmers Legal Action Group, says eligible cases must fall between 1981 and 2000.

Hayes says, “You may have a discrimination claim even if you actually got the loan that you applied for but then had problems later on when you needed servicing for the loan.”

The claims process is complex, but the payouts could be large. A 16-page claim package has to be submitted along with other evidence, then a third-party will review and determine eligibility.

Payments may range from $50,000 to $250,000. Hayes says women and Latinos who requested loans or loan servicing from the Farmers Home Administration or the Farm Service Agency may be eligible.

“The form of discrimination may have been a denial or a late provision of the loan or the loan servicing or a lesser amount of loan or loan servicing or discouraging them from applying at all,” she says.

Coming up with the required documentation could be a challenge. Hayes says in mid-December, about 85% of packets received were returned as incomplete.

Interested farmers have until March 25 to submit their claims.