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Drought Speeds Up Keepseagle Payments

A federal court has approved a plan to permit earlier payment to many Native Americans who filed USDA Farm Loan Program discrimination claims as part of the historic settlement in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack class-action lawsuit.
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Payments made under the Keepseagle settlement will be sped up because of the drought gripping much of the U.S., attorneys for the Keepseagle claimants announced on Wednesday.

The Keepseagle v. Vilsack class action lawsuit, brought by American Indian farmers and ranchers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination in loan-program administration, was settled in 2010 for $680 million in cash awards, plus an additional $80 million in debt relief, for a total monetary relief of $760 million.

The acceleration applies to the category of settlement payments with a cap of $50,000, known as Track A, the attorneys’ media release stated. Track B’s limit was $250,000 per award but required more documentation and processing time. Now the Track A payments will be expedited instead of having to wait for the Track B claims to be processed, the release said.

Track A claim determinations will now be mailed out by August 29, Keepseagle Settlement lead counsel Joseph Sellers, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, said in the attorneys’ statement.

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In additions, successful claimants who owe outstanding debt to the USDA farm loan program will also be entitled to debt relief, the release said. The Track B claim determinations and the debt-relief details for Track A will be mailed out by October 2012.

“The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a modification to the schedule for distributing relief after hearing from the claimants in the $680 million Keepseagle Settlement and the USDA,” the media release stated. “Both parties cited the ongoing drought impacting many farmers and ranchers as cause for expediting claims relief.”

Two thirds of the U.S. is under drought, the worst and most extreme since the 1950s, according to the USDA’s Drought Monitor. Ranchers and farmers alike are affected.

“We want to applaud the USDA for joining the plaintiffs in asking the court to allow the early release of funds to many of the Native American farmers and ranchers eligible to receive settlement payments. Given the hardship many face from the severe and ongoing drought, earlier distribution of these funds is particularly important,” Sellers said in the statement.

More information can be found at the Keepseagle v. Vilsack Settlement website. Read more on drought here, and on the Keepseagle settlement here.