The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made significant progress in addressing allegations of discrimination against minority and women farmers both in the farm loan programs it administers and in its workforce that have hounded it for over a decade, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Since 1997, the USDA has been the target of major civil rights lawsuits brought by African-American, Native American, Hispanic, and women farmers.
The suits generally accused the USDA of using discriminatory practices to illegally deny loans, delay loan application processing, underfund loan amounts and create unnecessary and burdensome roadblocks in the loan application process. These discriminatory practices were found to create unnecessary financial hardships for minority farmers.
Two of the best-known civil rights lawsuits filed against the USDA --Pigford v. Glickman and Brewington v. Glickman - filed on behalf of African-American farmers, resulted in the largest civil rights settlements in history. To date, over $1 billion has been paid to over 16,000 farmers as a result of settlements in the Pigford v. Glickman and Brewington v. Glickman suits.
Today, Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who believe they were discriminated against by the USDA in making or servicing farm loans between 1981 and 2000 can file claims for cash awards or debt relief on eligible farm loans by visiting the USDA"s Farmersclaims.gov website.
In October 2008, the GAO made six recommendations for ways the USDA could improve its performance in resolving farmers" discrimination claims and providing minority farmers with access to programs intended to help them succeed.
In its report titled, USDA"s Progress toward Implementing GAO"s Civil Rights Recommendations, the GAO told Congress the USDA fully addressed three of its six recommendations from 2008, made significant progress toward addressing two, and made some progress toward addressing one.
(See: Table 1, page 3, of the GAO report)
As early as 2002, the USDA committed