Farmers, ranchers alleging discrimination must file claims soon - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Hispanic and female farmers, ranchers alleging discrimination must file claims soon

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (KWWL) -

Farmers and ranchers who are alleging discrimination in loan or loan servicing assistance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have just over a month to file a claim related to a Feb. 2011 case.

The USDA is reaching out to Hispanic and female ranchers and farmers who may be eligible to file a claim through the program.

The process is a voluntary alternative to litigation for each female or Hispanic farmer or rancher who can prove the USDA denied his or her application for loan or loan servicing assistance for discriminatory reasons between 1981 and 2000, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

As announced in Feb. 2011, the voluntary claims process will make at least $1.33 billion available in cash awards and tax relief payments, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief, to eligible Hispanic and female farmers and ranchers.

Vilsack noted he is working on treating all farmers and ranchers equally under the USDA as part of "a new era of civil rights." Previous class-action settlements with African-American farmers in Feb. 2010 and with Native American farmers in Oct. 2010 have since received court approval.

Cases filed by Hispanic and female farmers more than a decade ago were not certified as class action, however, and this process provides a voluntary alternative to continuing litigation for those wishing to use it.

There are no filing fees to participate. Claims must be postmarked by March 25.

For more information or to register for a claims package, call (888) 508-4429 or visit farmerclaims.gov to download the form.

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