By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher, Greene County Democrat
Epes, Alabama; March 23, 2012: “Time is running out for Black farmers who want to make a claim in the Pigford II – Black Farmers Class Action Discrimination Lawsuit against the U. S. Department of Agriculture. As of Friday, March 30, there will only be six weeks (42 days) left in the 180 day claims period, which ends May 11, 2012,” said Ralph Paige, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a leading organization of Black farmers.
The Pigford II claims process is for Black farmers who believe they were discriminated against by USDA and made a “late” claim in the original case (Pigford I) by the deadline of September 15, 2000. Other farmers who have proof they made a request to file a late claim between September 16, 2000 and June 18, 2008, may be able to file a “late-late” claim in the Pigford II case.
The claims facilitator in Portland Oregon, EPIQ, has a list of all persons who met the original “late claim deadline” of September 15, 2000 and has been sending them an individualized, bar-coded claim form, to use in making their claim.
Farmers who have not received a claim form should contact the facilitator at 877-810-8110, to request their individualized claim form. Many farmers have changed their addresses in the decade since 2000 and that may be the reason why they have not received a form.
Many of the original claimants in the case are now deceased. There are provisions in the settlement for their next of kin or heirs to file a claim on their behalf. Persons filing on behalf of a deceased relative must furnish a death certificate for the claimant and must know the details and circumstances of their farming operation and USDA loan or non-loan program denial.
Other farmers did not officially make a timely late claim petition and therefore are not included on this EPIQ list. If you are not on the list you must have some kind of written documentation that you did request to file a late claim, from an official in the Pigford case, between September 16, 2000 and June, 18 2008 or you will not be included in the class of claimants for this lawsuit.
Once a Black farmer receives his or her claim form, it is recommended that you contact the class counsel lawyers through the same phone number-877-810-8110 – to make an appointment to fill out your claim. The class counsel lawyers will help fill out your claim at no cost. There is a list of times and places where the class counsel lawyers will assist with claims on the website: www.blackfarmercase.com
Claim Form Process
You can fill out your own claim if you wish, you can utilize your own lawyer and you can get help from community advocates, like the staff of the Federation and other farmers groups in the Network of Black Farm Organizations. Do not pay anyone to fill out your form. The Class Counsel have agreed to provide lawyers at no cost to fill out these forms. If someone offers to charge you to get into the case, fill out forms, or help in other ways for payment – please report them to Class Counsel or community organizations.
The claim form asks the farmer a set of questions about the years they farmed or attempted to farm (this lawsuit applies only to the 15 year period from 1981 through 1996); the size, location and type of their farm or farms; the crops and or livestock they raised or intended to raise; the USDA loan(s) or other non-loan programs or services they were seeking from Farmers Home Administration or Farm Service Agency; the discriminatory treatment they received from USDA; and whether they complained about their treatment and to whom.
“Many farmers are under the impression that they have already made a claim”, said Ralph Paige, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. “This is not the case. We have been fighting for ten years for late claimants to have their cases heard on their merits. Farmers will now get that chance and have the opportunity to make their case on their claim form. Our staff will be available to advise and assist people in this process.”
Since there is a finite sum of money for the settlement, $1.25 billion, which must be used to pay all legal, notice and administrative expenses of the settlement, as well as pay the farmers, the Judge has ruled that no funds for successful claims will be distributed until after the 180 day claims period and the evaluation of all claims. This means that funds will not be distributed until late in 2012 or early in 2013.
Ralph Paige also indicated that there are many farmers who paid people and organizations to get into the Pigford I lawsuit. “We feel many of these people will be disappointed to learn that their late claim petitions or paperwork they filled out were not turned in to the correct and official offices in this case.”
“Only six weeks or less remain in the claims process and farmers must get busy if they want to be included in this historic settlement. Farmers should be warned not to pay people who say that they can get you a claim form or get you into the case if you have not filed anything up to this time. You should report those people to the lawyers in the case so they can be prosecuted for fraud, “ said Paige.
Paige indicated, “Many people have given up, others have died in the process, but this is another milestone on the long road to justice for discrimination by USDA against Black farmers.”
For more information on the Pigford II settlement from the Federation, contact: 800/503-5678 (nationwide) or 205/652-9676 in Alabama or see their website at: www.federation.coop.
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