Now that the settlement agreement has received final approval, Native American farmers and ranchers will have until Dec. 24, 2011 to file claims for damages and debt relief.  Keepseagle class members will have an option to file individual claims under either Track A or Track B.  Track A permits eligible class members to recover up to $50,000 by providing information under oath that they are Native Americans, that they farmed or ranched (or attempted to farm or ranch) between 1981 and 1999, that they sought a loan or loan servicing from USDA during that period, and that they complained when they were denied a loan or otherwise treated unfavorably.  Track B permits eligible class members to seek an award of damages up to $250,000, with the amount based upon evidence of their actual economic loss.  Track B claims must submit evidence that would be admissible in court to satisfy each of the same elements as Track A, and in addition must identify a similarly situated white farmer who received more favorable treatment.

Starting in July 2011, Class Counsel will conduct a series of meetings to assist Native American farmers and ranchers with filing claims under Track A.  These meetings will occur throughout Indian Country from July through December 2011.  Class members are encouraged to retain individual counsel for Track B claims, as far more is involved in preparing a successful Track B claim than a Track A claim.  A list of attorneys willing to consider Track B claims will be provided to interested class members.  Claims approved by a neutral adjudicator are expected to be paid in the summer of 2012.

Notification of meetings and information on how to file a claim can be found on the IndianFarmClass.com website or by calling 1-888-233-5506.  

Under the settlement agreement, the USDA also will forgive up to $80 million in debt currently held by class members whose claims are approved under Track A or Track B.  When the U.S. District Court granted preliminary approval of the settlement in November 2010, that order put into effect a moratorium on foreclosures, debt accelerations and debt offsets not already referred to the U.S. Treasury Department.  The moratorium currently applies to all Native American farmers and ranchers and for those who file Track A or Track B claims the moratorium will last until the claims process has concluded.  After the debt relief is provided, if there are any class members with remaining debt, who are delinquent on any outstanding USDA farm loan debt, the USDA will engage in a round of loan servicing of that debt.

The third provision of the settlement agreement calls for the USDA to improve the delivery and responsiveness of its farm loan program to Native American farmers and ranchers.  One of the most important provisions is the creation of the Native American Farmer and Rancher Council, a new federal advisory committee. The Council will have 15 members, 11 of whom will be Native Americans or represent Native American interests and four of whom will be top USDA officials.  The Council will meet at least twice a year for the next five years to discuss how to make USDA’s programs more accessible for Native Americans farmers and ranchers.  The Council will report its recommendations directly to senior UDSA officials.

In addition to establishing the Council, the USDA will take the following additional steps to improve its services: 1) create 10 to 15 USDA regional sub-offices that will provide education and technical assistance to Native American farmers and ranchers and their advocates; 2) undertake a systematic review of its farm loan policies to determine how its regulations and policies can be reformed to better assist Native American farmers and ranchers; 3) create a customer guide on applying for credit from the USDA; 4) create the Office of the Ombudsperson to address concerns of all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; and, 5) regularly collect and report data on how well Native Americans fare under USDA’s farm loan programs.