Passed this July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Discrimination Financial Assistance Program set aside $2.2 billion available for farmers, ranchers or landowners who have faced prior discrimination.
In an effort to reach those who may be eligible for the program, local brick-and-mortar offices are being opened across the country to provide a space for questions and assistance at no cost. The Ohio office, located at 470 Olde Worthington Road Suite 200 in Westerville, held a grand opening on Aug., 30, and is now available for farmers to use.
“We want every farmer who has faced discrimination to put in an application so they can be compensated for the discrimination that they did face,” Varonica Richardson, a technical assistant with the Windsor Group, a professional services firm supporting the USDA’s Ohio DFAP office.
How it works
The USDA opened its Discrimination Financial Assistance Program in July and will be accepting applications until Oct. 31. The program was created to compensate farmers from minority groups who have experienced discrimination from previous USDA practices and who weren’t compensated after the two previous lawsuits.
Farmers could receive anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000, Richardson said.
There are two ways farmers can be eligible for the program: the farmer personally experienced discrimination through one of the USDA’s farm loan programs, or the farmer has an assigned farm loan from the USDA and the original borrower experienced discrimination on the same debt.
To be eligible, farmers must have also experienced the discrimination prior to Jan. 1, 2021 and be able to “provide information to substantiate the discrimination experienced,” according to the USDA website.
The type of discrimination covered includes race, color or national origin/ethnicity (including status as a member of an Indian Tribe); sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity; religion; age; marital status; disability; and/or reprisal/retaliation for prior civil rights activity.
The discrimination may have been experienced as a failure to provide appropriate assistance; a delay in processing a loan or loan servicing application; denial of a loan or loan servicing;
adverse loan terms; or unduly onerous supervision of loan requirements, the USDA said.
There is a section on the application for the farmer or would-be farmer to describe how they were discriminated against, Richardson said. There is also a long list of requested documentation to prove the discrimination occurred.
In 1999, a class action lawsuit was filed by Timothy Pigford, a North Carolina farmer, and 400 other African-American farmers who alleged the USDA discriminated against them when it came to the allocation of farm loans and assistance.
The lawsuit ended in a settlement agreement that provided 13,000 Black farmers with $50,000 each and debt relief. However, thousands of Black farmers’ claims from the 1990s went uninvestigated and, as a result, they didn’t receive compensation.
A second case, commonly referred to as Pigford II, occurred as a result of the USDA admitting this discrimination. A second settlement was finally reached in 2010 which provided black farmers with $1.25 billion. Despite the second time around, many farmers say they never received their portion of the settlement.
According to the think tank Data for Progress, throughout the past 100 years, 98% of Black farmers faced discriminatory practices by the USDA which resulted in a 90% loss of Black-owned farmland in the US. About 1.4%, or 48,679, of the nation’s 3.4 million farmers identify as Black, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
In an effort to address those who failed to receive settlements, in 2020, as part of the American Rescue Plan, lawmakers approved $5 billion toward debt relief and cancellation for farmers of color. However, the bill was quickly blocked by 12 lawsuits that alleged it was discriminating against white farmers who also had debt.
Finally, as part of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, a $3.1 billion debt relief program for all farmers, including white farmers, was added as well as a $2.2 billion program for those who have faced discrimination.
Local Discrimination Financial Assistance Program offices
Ohio — 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 470 Olde Worthington Road, Suite 200, Westerville, OH 43082
Pennsylvania — 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 610 Old York Rd, Suite 400, Jenkintown, PA 19046
The application can also be completed online at 22007apply.gov.
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