Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Val Dolcini announced that a public meeting will be held in Fresno on Feb. 12 to explain the USDA discrimination claims process that has a deadline for claims coming up in March.

Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege loan discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture from 1981 to 2000 can file claims and may receive a cash payment and loan forgiveness. The public meeting on Feb. 12 starts at 5:30 PM at the Fresno County Farm Bureau Office at 1274 West Hedges Ave in Fresno.  Claims forms will be available at the meeting.

(See related: Slow resolution of USDA minority discrimination suit stokes fires of bitterness)

“We encourage those Hispanic and women farmers or ranchers in Southern California who feel they may have experienced discriminatory treatment to attend this meeting to learn more about this claims process,” said Dolcini. “At FSA we are dedicated to ensuring fair and equal treatment for all California farmers and ranchers in our state.”

FSA has been holding public meetings in all parts of the state since last October to spread the word about this opportunity to “turn the page” in addressing any claims of discrimination. This will be the second public meeting in Fresno and the 14th meeting in California.

Hispanic and women farmers who believe they have faced discriminatory practices from the USDA must file a claim by March 25, 2013 in order to participate in this claims resolution process. This voluntary claims process will make available at least $1.33 billion for cash awards and tax relief payments, plus up to $160 million in farm debt relief to eligible Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers.

As announced in February 2011, the process offers a voluntary alternative to litigation for each Hispanic or female farmer and rancher who can prove that USDA denied their applications for loan or loan servicing assistance for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000. There are no filing fees to participate in the program.

A national toll-free information line is available at 1-888-508-4429 and a national website has been established at www.farmerclaims.gov. Claimants may obtain a claims package by calling the number or visiting the website and the claims package will be mailed to claimants.

For details about the three public meetings still to be held in California, you can contact the FSA state office at 530-792-5520.  Further information is also available at www.fsa.usda.gov/ca.