WASHINGTON, Nov. 29- The period for African American farmers and ranchers to file a claim in the Pigford II settlement has opened. Those eligible must file claims no later than May 11, 2012.

"With the opening of the claims process, African American farmers and ranchers who believe they are entitled to compensation under the Pigford II settlement must file a claim within 180 days in order to receive cash payment or loan forgiveness," said Secretary Vilsack. "The opening of this claims process marks another milestone in USDA's efforts to correct the wrongs of the past and ensure fair treatment to all current and future customers."

In February, USDA and Department of Justice announced an agreement with African American farmers to settle the Pigford II litigation for $1.25 billion. Congress passed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 that funded the settlement in November 2010, and the bill was signed by President Obama in December 2010.

The settlement arises from a class action lawsuit against USDA that alleges the Department discriminated against African-Americans who applied for or attempted to apply for farm loans or other farm benefits between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996. The settlement applies only to African-American farmers who meet specific eligibility requirements, including the requirement that they previously submitted a request to file a late claim in the 1999 Pigford I class action Consent Decree.

The filing period opened November 14, 2011, and continues for 180 days, until May 11, 2012.

Claimant services representatives can also be reached through calling 1-877-810-8110 or 1-866-950-5547. Claimants must register for a claims package (by calling the number or visiting the website) and the claims package will be mailed to claimants. All those interested in learning more or receiving information about the claims process and claims packages are encouraged to attend a meeting and contact the website or claims telephone number.

The website is: www.blackfarmercase.com

The call number is: 1-877-810-8110 or 1-866-950-5547

Claims period: November 14, 2011 to May 11, 2012


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