The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2010 budget proposal will include funds to provide a final settlement for the lawsuit that alleged discrimination against minority farmers in USDA’s farm programs.
“I’m pleased that we are now able to close this chapter in the agency's history and move on,” President Obama said in a statement. "My hope is the farmers and their families who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will have the chance to rebuild their lives and their businesses.”
“I am very pleased that President Obama is taking swift action on this matter, as it will help us chart a new course at USDA, one on which all USDA customers and employees are treated equally and fairly,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In 1999, USDA entered into a consent agreement with black farmers in which the agency agreed to pay for past discrimination in lending and other USDA programs. Thousands of claims have been adjudicated, but other claims were not considered on their merits because problems with the notification and claims process hindered some farmers’ ability to participate.
To deal with the remaining claims, Congress provided these farmers another avenue for restitution in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. For those who have claims that were not considered on the merits because the claim was found not to be timely, the 2008 Farm Bill provided the right to file a new claim in federal court. The total amount offered by the federal government, $1.25 billion, includes $100 million that served as a “place holder” in Section 14012 of the farm bill.
The announcement comes on the heels of a memorandum released two weeks ago by Ag Sec. Vilsack detailing an aggressive plan to promote civil rights and equal access at USDA. The memo announced the following:
The full text of the memo is available at the USDA.