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Keepseagle deadline extended

WASHINGTON – Indian farmers suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture have extended a deadline for settlement, while Hispanic farmers reportedly have a deal on the table.

The Indian farmers are part of Keepseagle v. Vilsack, a long-running case against the government that contends USDA officials denied or delayed a number of farm and ranch loans and emergency assistance applications by Indians.

An expert report prepared by the Indian plaintiffs estimates that alleged discrimination in various USDA departments toward Native American farmers caused the farmers to be denied about $3 billion in credit, resulting in between $500 million and $1 billion in damages.

Black farmers have already received two settlements of more than $1 billion each for similar bias claims, and Indians have been urging the Obama administration to follow suit.

USDA officials, including Secretary Tom Vilsack, began expressing desire last fall to enter settlement talks with the plaintiffs, but a firm figure has yet to be announced, despite a couple of deadline extensions already.

At a February Agriculture Subcommittee hearing, Vilsack noted the case, saying that settlement figures had been discussed, although he said there was a wide gap between the parties on a final figure.

The latest extension for settlement talks came in late-May when the parties agreed to a July 29 deadline.

“The parties believe that their efforts to explore the possibility of settlement of this action have been productive and that the stay should remain in effect in order to permit them to devote their attention exclusively to continue their settlement discussions,” according to a court document.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has reported that Hispanic and female farmers suing the USDA over similar claims have been offered $1.3 billion to settle.

The story cited “a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement has not been finalized.”

Lawyers for the Hispanic plaintiffs have said the amount is too low.