WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2012 – An Alabama State Senator alleges that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) are using a more difficult claims process that will result in a new form of discrimination against Women and Hispanic farmers.
Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders says the process established to review discrimination claims for Women and Hispanic Farmers is much more stringent than the one used for Blacks and Native Americans. As a result, the new process will potentially keep many females and Hispanics from qualifying in their own discrimination lawsuit against the government.
"This is pure discrimination against Women and Hispanic Farmers," said Senator Hank Sanders, an Alabama State Senator who was involved in the Pigford I and second Black Farmer cases as a lawyer but is not involved in Women and Hispanic Farmers cases.
“Under what they are requiring, almost no one will qualify,” he told Agri-Pulse. “People will be fooled into filing and then they won’t stand a chance.”
Sanders said he tried to tell the U.S. Justice Department and the White House that “the process is discriminatory” in letters sent several weeks ago to both White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, but neither responded.
The discriminatory claims process for Women and Hispanic Farmers starts September 24th and ends March 25th 2013.
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 between 1981 and 2000.
In January 2012, USDA announced changes to the claims process, which provides a voluntary option for those who have higher-value claims and well-documented histories with USDA and increases the maximum compensation up to $250,000. Claimants who may lack certain written documentation will still have the opportunity to participate in different tiers of the claims process and receive up to $50,000, according to USDA.
“While the courts certified class action lawsuits to resolve claims for Black and Native American farmers regarding discrimination in loan making and loan servicing, the courts declined to do the same for Hispanic or women claimants,” explains USDA Spokesperson Justin DeJong. “Secretary Vilsack has made it a priority to resolve all claims of past discrimination against USDA, and given that there may be valid claims by Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers, DOJ and USDA developed a voluntary process to resolve the claims of those who assert that they were discriminated against when seeking USDA loans.
“The process is designed to be simple and to provide monetary awards for prevailing claimants in an expedited fashion, with claims decided by an independent claims adjudicator. If a claimant does not choose this option, he or she can still pursue a claim in court,” DeJong noted.
But Sanders said that, even with the first tier of claims, the there is a much higher threshold of evidence required for women and Hispanics than for the black farmers.
For example, he said the process will require claimants to provide a third party witness to the discrimination that occurred and evidence of a written complaint from actions taken as far back as 1981.
Anyone who wishes to participate in the claims process must obtain a claims package from the Claims Adjudicator. Folks can sign up to receive a claims package by calling 1-888-508-4429 or going to www.farmerclaims.gov.
Claimants will have 180 days from the opening date of the Claims Period within which to file a completed Claims Package. USDA notes that more information about the Claims Period will be made available at a later date.
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