With much of the nation's farm and ranch lands stricken by the worst drought in decades, a federal court on Aug. 1 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.
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. Both parties cited the ongoing drought impacting many farmers and ranchers as cause for expediting claims relief.
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, said Keepseagle Settlement lead counsel Joseph Sellers, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.
Under the terms of the 2010 Keepseagle Settlement, Native American farmers and ranchers complaining of discrimination by the USDA farm loan program from 1981 through 1999 could submit their claims by Dec. 27, 2011.
There were two tracks under which claims could be submitted, a more streamlined Track A with a maximum payment of $50,000 and Track B, which required documentary evidence and a higher burden of proof, but permitted a maximum payment of $250,000. The Settlement originally called for one distribution after all claims had been resolved. However, resolution of Track A claims moved more quickly than those of Track B claims. With the court approved payment modification in place, these claims now can be distributed earlier.
All Track A claim determinations should be mailed out no later than Aug. 29, with prevailing claimants each receiving a check for $50,000, according to Sellers. Successful claimants who owe outstanding debt to the USDA farm loan program will also be entitled to debt relief. The exact amount of debt relief still is being determined, and eligible Track A claimants will be notified in further detail about their debt relief when the remainder of the claims process is complete. Sellers added that Track B determinations and the debt relief details for Track A claimants will be sent by the end of October 2012.
Additional information and updates will be posted on the Keepseagle v. Vilsack Settlement website, http://www.IndianFarmClass.com or call 888-233-5506.