The United States Government is establishing a claims process to make available at least $1.3 billion or more to farmers who alleged discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Robert Piceno, Arizona State executive director for the Farm Service Agency at the USDA explains the process.
Related Web site: http://www.farmerclaims.gov
Jose Cardenas: The United States department of agriculture is holding outreach sessions for Hispanic and women farmers who believe they may have been discriminated against when they applied to the USDA for farm loans during a certain period of time. These people may be entitled to a portion of a settlement. With me to talk about the details is Robert Piceno, the Arizona state executive director for the USDA farm service agency. Welcome to "Horizonte." Let's begin with the background to this. As I understand, there was litigation initially filed by African Americans and Native Americans accusing the USDA of discrimination.
Robert Piceno: Yes, and those lawsuits were settled last year. The African Americans in February and the native American lawsuit in October.
José Cárdenas: And how much money are we talking about?
Robert Piceno: We're talking about $1.4 billion for the African American farmers and around $800 million from Native American farmers.
José Cárdenas: And so basically what was the claim? They applied for loans from the USDA and they were denied because of their raise or ethnicity?
Robert Piceno: Right, the claims period established by congress, 1981 to 2000, individuals claimed they were denied farm loans because of their ethnicity or race and the examples they were told that the loan funding was expired, exhausted, when in reality, they were still available. Denying them the opportunity to apply for the loans themselves. Also, the county committees, the employees of our agency, determined that these folks were not farmers that could make a profit, just upon the mere fact they were of that race or of that nationality and denied them the opportunity to process a loan, when these folks saw their neighbors getting the loans who had the same size farm, the same experience, the same abilities, that -- that they thought they had and they felt they were denied that opportunity.
José Cárdenas: Those cases were class action lawsuits?
Robert Piceno: That's correct.
José Cárdenas: The claims for Hispanics and women, there's no litigation, but the government has decided to establish a claim fund?
Robert Piceno: Yes, because this is not a class action, these -- not a class action, they would have to file a lawsuit individually for their specific claim of the Department of Justice and USDA and the Obama administration is committed to resolving these claims as efficiently as possible to ensure these folks have the funds available to them through what we had established is a claims process where it will be a streamlined process where folks will ask for a claims package from a third party adjudicator who will review their claims and determine the settlement amount for each individual claimant the those individuals who have a smaller standard of -- lower standard of proof will be in a pool of claimants that will share in the $1.33 billion pool. For both Hispanics and women. There are two pending lawsuits. Of the Hispanic farmers and women farmers. To resolve these two lawsuits, because they're not class action, both -- both lawsuits and claimants will partake of this particular claims process--
José Cárdenas: And so for people whose claims are less than $50,000 won't have to prove as much as those whose claims are larger.
Robert Piceno: Up to $50,000 is the figure available to -- knowledge what will they need to show to recover? The group under $50,000?
José Cárdenas: What will they'll have to show, for example, they farmed, the proof they were farming, or wanted to farm during that period and have to have some form of evidence to show that they did apply or wanted to apply at the farm service agency. They will -- our applicants have to have a letter of denial from commercial credit before they can apply for our loans because our loans are an attractive interest rate so they can bring in a form that said they applied at this commercial bank which would indicated they applied because this denial letter is an eligibility requirement to apply for us, so have proof that they applied at X, Y, Z bank and then with us. They could give us the name of the loan officer they talked to, the address --
José Cárdenas: But the things they need to change in some fashion they were discriminated against?
Robert Piceno: Yes, they would have to allege that the farmer across from their acreage or a applicant they knew of received the farm loan -- you know, eligible and received farm loans and they didn't. And they were told, for example, that the money was available and it was not available but they know for a fact it was. That leads them to believe they were discriminated against.
José Cárdenas: We're almost out of time. Two things, you talked about we and us and so forth. As I understand it, this was not much of an issue in Arizona. No indication this discrimination took place here.
Robert Piceno: No, my recollection with the department and agency, never had a complaint filed of discrimination from Hispanic farmers or women farmers.
José Cárdenas: And then with respect to the situation for applications, you're doing outreach right now to have some kind of orientation sessions?
Robert Piceno: What we're doing is we're making available the 1-800 number and the website address for folks to apply for the claims package --
José Cárdenas: The number on the screen.
Robert Piceno: Apply for the claims package. They'll queue up for the claims package and when the adjudicator is selected, the claims packages will go out.
José Cárdenas: And when is this likely to get underway?
Robert Piceno: They estimate the adjudicator on board late summer and that's when the folks who asked for the claims packages will receive them and the information terms will in there.
José Cárdenas: Thanks for coming on "Horizonte" to tell us about this. And best in luck in getting this done.
Robert Piceno: Thank you very much.
Robert Piceno:Executive Director, Arizona State, Farm Service Agency at the USDA;