USDA offers Hispanic, female farmers $1B

March 9, 2011 at 6:03 PM

WASHINGTON, March 9 (UPI) -- U.S. agriculture officials say they hope setting aside more than $1 billion for Hispanic and female farmers will settle hundreds of discrimination lawsuits.

Plaintiffs can choose between collecting up to $50,000 now or continuing their lawsuits, the Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News reported. The settlement offer was announced last week.

"We've made an effort to turn the page on what has been a tough chapter for us in civil rights," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the newspaper. "This is an effort to give folks a closure or an option for closure."

The Agriculture Department paid $2.5 billion last year to settle a lawsuit by black farmers who said they were passed over for loans.

Lupe Garcia, a farmer in Dona Ana County in New Mexico and the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that now involves more than 100 farmers, said he does not expect to accept the settlement. Garcia, who sued 11 years ago, said the amount does not cover the losses he suffered from discrimination.

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