U.S. to pay $760 million for mistreating Indian farmers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government will spend up to $760 million to compensate American Indian farmers who were unfairly denied loans by the Agriculture Department, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday.

“With today’s agreement, we take an important step forward in remedying USDA’s unfortunate civil rights history,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Obama urged Congress to appropriate funds promised months ago in two other cases. In February, the government announced a $1.25 billion settlement for USDA discrimination against black farmers. A December 2009 settlement calls for $3.4 billion to resolve an Indian trust cast.

Compensation in the so-called Keepseagle case of USDA discrimination against American Indian farmers from 1981-99 would be paid from a federal judgment fund and not require congressional action, said officials. Some $680 million will be available to pay discrimination claims approved by an impartial adjudicator and USDA will provide up to $80 million in forgiveness of farm-loan debts.

Assistant Attorney General Tony West said during a teleconference the settlement sets an aggressive schedule for notifying potential claimants. He declined to estimate how many claims would be submitted.

Payments of up to $50,000 apiece will be considered for people who show substantial evidence of discrimination. Those with stronger evidence of economic losses can get up to


Filed in 1999, the Keepseagle case accused USDA of denying loans to thousands of American Indians while approving similar loans for white farmers and ranchers. West said the settlement needs approval by the federal judge handling the case, brought by George and Marilyn Keepseagle, of North Dakota.

Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by David Gregorio