Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Monday that Hispanic and women farmers who feel they have been discriminated against by the USDA may now file claims to get "a piece of at least $1.33 billion in cash awards and tax relief payments and up to $160 million in farm debt relief [emphasis added]," The Daily Caller's Caroline May reports.
Any woman or Hispanic farmer/rancher who thinks their race or gender resulted in their being denied a loan or loan servicing application between the years 1981 and 2000 will have until March 25, 2013, to file a discrimination claim.
"Hispanic and women farmers who believe they have faced discriminatory practices from the USDA must file a claim by March 25, 2013 in order to have a chance to receive a cash payment or loan forgiveness,” Vilsack said in a statement Monday.
"The opening of this claims process is part of USDA’s ongoing efforts to correct the wrongs of the past and ensure fair treatment to all current and future customers," the statement adds.
This announcement shouldn't come as a total surprise. After all, it was just last February that Vilsack announced the creation of a "path to justice for Hispanic and women farmers" that would allow them to collect compensation for the USDA's past misdeeds without having to go to federal court.
As the TheDC’s May notes, this is the third time the USDA has been made to settle with discriminated against interest groups under the Obama administration.
"When I was sworn in as secretary of Agriculture two years ago, President [Barack] Obama and I made a commitment to mend USDA’s troubled civil rights record," said Vilsack in a statement last year.
"Since then, we have taken comprehensive action to turn the page on past discrimination. Last year we entered into a settlement with black farmers in Pigford II to address pending claims, and finalized a historic settlement agreement with Native American farmers under Keepseagle that faced discrimination by USDA," he added.
You may recall the $1.25 billion Pigford II settlement: black farmers claimed that between 1981 and 1996, the USDA discriminated against their loan applications.
And as for Vilisack’s mention of Keepseagle: the "settlement made $760 million available to Native American farmers and ranchers who believe they did not receive the same farm loan opportunities as whites between 1981 and 1999," May notes.
"The USDA plans to engaged in outreach through mail, media, and community advocacy groups to ensure that those eligible are aware of the claims process. The agency has print, video and audio outreach messages in English and Spanish on its website," she adds.
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Front page photo source courtesy the AP. This story has been updated.