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USDA $760 Million Settlement for Discriminated Native American Farmers Moves Forward

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Native American farmers and ranchers will receive postal notices soon about their legal rights and options to receive compensation from the $760 million Keepseagle v. Vilsack class action settlement, reports the PRNewswire.

The agreement, which was first announced Oct. 19, 2010, provides Native American farmers nationwide with a total of $680 million compensation and another $80 million in farm debt forgiveness. Native American farmers who can provide high evidence of discrimination, including documents such as loan applications and correspondence and written complaints of discrimination filed at the time a loan was requested, may be awarded up to $250,000 in damage compensation, plus 25 percent to cover increases in income tax that might result. Others who provide “substantial” sworn evidence will receive a uniform settlement of up to $50,000, plus 25 percent for income tax coverage.

Marilyn and George Keepseagle, a couple from Fort Yates, N.D., filed the class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1999 for USDA discrimination for the years 1981 to 1999. They charged Native American farmers were denied the same USDA loans granted to their white farmer neighbors.

In addition to the settlement, the USDA is establishing the Native American Farmer and Rancher Council and adding USDA regional sub-offices to provide education and technical assistance to Native American farmers and ranchers.

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The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will decide whether to grant final approval of the settlement at a hearing on April 28, 2011. Claims for cash and loan forgiveness must be filed by December 24, 2011.