Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Native American Farmers Awarded $760 Million in USDA Class Action Settlement

Native American farmers that alleged discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a class action lawsuit will receive close to a billion dollars from a settlement agreement announced yesterday by the agency. 

The lawsuit, Marilyn Keepseagle et al., v. Vilsack (Civil Action No. 99-3119 (D.D.C.)), was first filed on November 24th, 1999, but the discrimination complaints from thousands of Native American farmers span a decade (1981-1999). The complaints, in general, alleged that Native American farmers and ranchers did not have the same opportunity to obtain USDA farm loans as white farmers and ranchers.

Under the settlement agreement, known as the “Keepseagle Settlement,” $680 million will be made available to eligible class members to compensate them for their discrimination claims, according to a press release issued yesterday by the USDA.

In addition, the agreement provides up to $80 million in debt forgiveness to successful claimants with outstanding USDA Farm Loan program debt. Also, a moratorium on foreclosures of most claimants’ farms and a moratorium on accelerations and administrative offsets of class members’ farm loan accounts will be put into place until after claimants have gone through the claims process or the Secretary of Agriculture has been notified that a claim has been denied.

The settlement also provides a broad range of programmatic relief, including the creation of a new Federal Advisory Council for Native American farmers and ranchers and a new ombudsman position to address farm program issues related to Native American farmers and ranchers as well as all other socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

The settlement will not be final until it is formally approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release announcing the settlement, “Today’s settlement can never undo wrongs that Native Americans may have experienced in past decades, but combined with the actions we at USDA are taking to address such wrongs, the settlement will provide some measure of relief to those alleging discrimination.”

In a press release issued yesterday, the National Congress of American Indians praised the settlement.  

"This settlement provides long awaited justice for American Indian farmers and ranchers who have only sought an equal opportunity to work hard and succeed,” said Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI. “We are pleased that the court and the Obama Administration have taken tangible steps today to right a wrong  reinforce the trust relationship between the United States and American Indian tribal nations.”

No comments:

Post a Comment