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The USDA’s first meeting to help women and Hispanic farmers file a claim of alleged discrimination on loans was Monday in Simpsonville.
The lightly attended session was the first of two in the state, with the second on Tuesday at the Graves County Library in Mayfield.
The USDA is offering the more streamlined claims process for helping women and Hispanic farmers who believe they were discriminated against while applying for a USDA loan between 1981 and 2000. The claims process opened on Sept. 24 and will continue through March 25, 2013.
State officials from the USDA and its offices of Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Rural Development were on hand to discuss their roles in the farming community.
John McCauley, the FSA state executive director, gave a brief explanation of the process and what the USDA is attempting to do.
“The reason we’re here is because of past alleged discrimination, and we’re committed to resolving that situation,” he said. “In moving forward, the USDA wants to ensure fairness and inclusion to all.”
The USDA has gone through similar claims processes with African-American farmers, awarding more than $1.25 billion in settlements, and Native-American famers, who received $760 million in settlements.
There are certain qualifications that must be met, including that the claimant be Hispanic and farmed or attempted to farm between Jan. 1, 1981, and Dec. 31, 1996, or Oct. 13, 1998, and Oct. 13, 2000; or female and farmed or attempted to farm Jan. 1, 1981, and Dec. 31, 1996, or Oct. 19, 1998, and Oct. 19, 2000.
Also, the burden of proof of discrimination falls on the claimant, who must show documentation of applying for a loan and meet substantial-evidence standards to show discrimination.
There are three different levels of payment for which claimants can qualify: Tier 2, which provides a $50,000 cash award and tax and debt relief on eligible loans; Tier 1(a), which provides the same award, but the amount available is capped at $1.33 billion; and Tier 1(b), which provides $250,000 cash award and debt relief on eligible loans but no tax relief. The Tier 1(b) payments are capped at $100 million.
“It has been ruled that these alleged discrimination suits cannot be accepted in court as class action, so this claims process will help the issues be resolved more quickly and efficiently,” McCauley said.
However, the officials at the meeting were instructed not to give advice on how to fill out claims or what would be needed to show proof. Instead, those wishing to make a claim or ask questions about the process are being directed to call the claims administrator’s office at 1-888-508-4429 or to visit www.farmerclaims.gov.
Mitchell Whittle, the FSA farm loan chief, also discussed the agency’s current loaning processes and how it’s benefitting the commonwealth.
“Last fiscal year Kentucky led the nation in direct operating loans and, when combined with guaranteed loans, was second,” he said. “We were first in the dollar amount for youth loans and third in beginner farm loans, which are for farmers with less than ten years experience. And fifty-seven point three percent of our overall funds are utilized by young farmers and the social disadvantaged [which means minority or female under USDA definition].”
Karen Woodrich, the NRCS state conservationist, and Thomas Fern, the Rural Development state director, both also spoke about the grant and lending opportunities with their departments of the USDA, although neither is tied directly to the women and Hispanic farmer and rancher claims.