Over the next month, a team of law firms will hold nearly two dozen informational meetings across the country to help black farmers learn how to file a claim as part of a $1.2 billion discrimination settlement.
A federal judge gave final approval to the settlement last month, moving black farmers a step closer to receiving payments, possibly as early as the fall of 2012.
"We're headed into the home stretch," said Greg Francis, a lead co-counsel on the case. "The farmers are that much closer to a final decision."
The settlement could affect more than 2,000 black farmers in Louisiana. Congress approved the $1.2 billion settlement last year in what has become known as "The Pigford case." Tens of thousands of black farmers said they were denied loans and other assistance by federal agriculture officials for racial reasons.
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The settlement marks the second round of payments for black farmers. Thousands received payments as part of a 1999 class-action settlement in the case. The second round will pay farmers who missed the first deadline.
The maximum payment per claim could be up to $50,000, but that will depend on the number of successful claimants. Family members of deceased farmers are eligible if a farmer filed a claim between 1999 and June 2008, officials said. Only one person per family is eligible.
James Burrell, vice president of the Black Farmers and Landowners of Louisiana, said the money will represent "only a small token" of what some black farmers lost: "I know a lot of farmers who lost their place, their everything."
Burrell, who is from Oak Grove, has joined demonstrations outside the USDA headquarters in Washington. He said federal officials should also forgive some black farmers for loans they received during those discriminatory periods.
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Farmers are encouraged to attend the meetings and schedule an appointment to meet with members of legal teams. They can call (877) 810-8110 or go to blackfarmercase.com.