Today is an historic day for USDA. Working with colleagues at the Department of Justice, we launched a program that provides a path to justice for Hispanic and women farmers who believe they were discriminated against by USDA between 1981 and 2000. Many of these farmers and ranchers have waited and fought to get relief, but until now their only means of getting their complaints heard was to file an individual case in federal court. Today we are providing folks with a simpler path that enables them to file a claim for compensation that will be resolved by a neutral party without the involvement of the courts.
When I was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture two years ago, President Obama and I made a commitment to mend USDA’s troubled civil rights record. Since then, we have taken comprehensive action to turn the page on past discrimination. Last year we entered into a settlement with black farmers in Pigford II to address pending claims, and finalized a historic settlement agreement with Native American farmers under Keepseagle that faced discrimination by USDA.
With today’s announcement, we are continuing work to build a new era for civil rights at USDA: correcting our past errors, learning from our mistakes, and outlining definitive action to ensure there will be no missteps in the future. The process has been long and often difficult, but my staff and I have been working hard every day to make USDA a model employer and premier service provider that treats every customer and employee fairly, with dignity and respect.
If you are a woman or Hispanic farmer or rancher and feel you were discriminated against by USDA between 1981 and 2000, you must request a claims package to participate in the claims process. To begin this process, you can either call 1-888-508-4429 or visit www.farmerclaims.gov to submit your information online.
Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of Agriculture.