Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Black farmers have another chance to file discrimination claims against USDA; deadline May 11

Black farmers have another chance to file discrimination claims against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and potentially be awarded thousands of dollars, reports Adrian Sainz of The Associated Press. Black farmers previously filed suit against the USDA in the Pigford v. Glickman case, claiming the agency denied them loans between 1981 and 1996 because of their race. The case was settled in 1999 and provided about $1 billion to 15,000 farmers.

Some farmers missed the deadline to be a part of the settlement and filed late claims. A second settlement was approved in October 2011, and is allowing black farmers who claim to have been discriminated against by the USDA between 1981 and 1996 to sign on. Lawyers think 40,000 to 65,000 farmers are eligible to claim about $1.2 billion under the new settlement, Sainz reports. Thousands have filed claims and some could receive as much as $250,000, depending on the level of damages and losses experienced and how many farmers file claims. An independent panel will decide who is eligible. Farmers have until May 11 to file.

Black farmers owned 15 million acres of land in the 1920s, but when they tried to expand with USDA loans, they faced adversity, Sainz reports. As a result, they had to reduce the size of farms or sell their land. Today, black farmers own only 3 to 4 million acres, with the highest number of black-owned farms stretching from Mississippi to North Carolina. Many have abandoned traditional row crops and grow watermelon, mangoes and vegetables because they are worth more per acre. (Read more)

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