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Native American farmer deal OK’d

Associated Press / April 29, 2011

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WASHINGTON — A federal judge has approved a $680 million settlement between the Department of Agriculture and Native American farmers who said they were denied loans because of discrimination.

The two sides agreed on the deal last year subject to court approval. US District Judge Emmet Sullivan approved the terms yesterday.

Individuals who can prove discrimination could receive up to $250,000 from the government. The agreement also includes $80 million in farm debt forgiveness for the plaintiffs and a series of initiatives to try and alleviate racism in rural farm loan offices.

The lawsuit was filed in 1999 and contends Native Americans farmers and ranchers lost hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades because they were denied USDA loans. The government settled a similar lawsuit filed by black farmers more than a decade ago.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his department is working on improving its civil-rights record.

President Obama said the settlement was “yet another important step forward in addressing an unfortunate chapter in USDA’s civil-rights history.’’