Women farmers question USDA claims program
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WASHINGTON, Oct.19, 2012 - Women farmers in a pending gender discrimination lawsuit with USDA voiced their concerns about the claims program that USDA kicked off on September 24, 2012.
Counsel Arent Fox, LLP represents the plaintiffs in Love v. Vilsack, the lawsuit asserting constitutional and statutory claims against USDA for its administration of farm loan programs.
USDA announced with the Department of Justice in February 2011 that the voluntary claims process will make available at least $1.33 billion for cash awards and tax relief payments, plus up to $160 million in farm loan debt relief, to eligible Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege discrimination during certain dates between 1981 and 2000.
The plaintiffs argue the program offers women and Hispanic farmers a claims program that is inferior to the programs the government provided to African-American and Native American farmers. They say the program violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“The opening of a claim resolution program for women farmers seems like a positive step, but I hope that deserving women will actually be able to navigate this complex process and finally obtain relief,” said Rosemary Love, a named plaintiff in the Love v. Vilsack case, pending since 2000.
Love said the claim form and other documents for USDA's program are problematic. “The form is confusing and sometimes inconsistent with the other documents provided by the government. I expect that many farmers will have trouble understanding and completing the documents.”
“We are pleased that a program exists for women farmers, and we encourage women farmers to consider whether they want to participate. But we also wish this was a more equitable program,” said Arent Fox attorney Kristine Dunne. “Now that the program has officially begun, we hope that USDA will take steps to address confusion and clarify questions prompted by its documents. We would be happy to work with the Administration in such an effort.”
Women farmers who believe they qualify for relief under the program may file claims until March 25, 2013.
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