Victims may qualify for up to $500,000; must file before Jan. 13 deadline
Because of years of an inherent racial bias that weighed against them in the U.S. Department of Agriculture from its beginning in 1862, a large number of Black and other socially disadvantaged ethnic farmers have been slow to endorse the department’s highly promoted loan and farm service programs. But times have apparently changed recently as thousands of these same farmers are coming forth to apply for the USDA’s new Discrimination Financial Assistance Program (DFAP) that allows up to $500,000 in compensation for the farmers who can provide evidence of past discrimination.
The $2.2 billion fund is a legitimate USDA program run independently by unbiased, private contractors, including the Black-owned Windsor Group LLC of Bethesda, Maryland. The program is authorized by Section 22007(e) of the Inflation Reduction Act but has a Jan. 13, 2024, deadline for accepting applications.
Windsor Group LLC is the official vendor/contractor for the USDA on this project in 29 states and territories east of the Mississippi. That area runs from the northwest in Wisconsin down through Mississippi, then east to Florida, up north to Maine, and includes Puerto and the Virgin Islands.
Over 8,500 applications were already on file when Myles Caggins, chief of media relations for Windsor Group LLC, sat for an interview in the Jackson Advocate office on December 9. More than 2,000 of those applications have come from Mississippi, the largest number from any state, Caggins said.
The DFAP process is being conducted through contractors like Windsor Group LLC because the USDA’s Farm Service Agency was responsible for the original discrimination, Caggins said.
“I’m representing the Windsor Group LLC,” said Caggins. “Windsor Group is one of the three official vendors contracted by the USDA for this project. “The government decided that it should be an independent process guided by USDA, but not influenced by USDA because of the prior history with USDA implementing these types of programs.
“And here we are in mid-December and at this point there have been more than 8,500 applications from across the country, but more importantly here in Mississippi, there have been more than 2,000 applications,” Caggins said. “Mississippi has produced the most applications for this program, doubling the next highest state. And our team on the ground here, led by Dr. Willie Taylor out of Vicksburg, has been canvassing the state to get farmers to submit applications and provide them with free technical assistance.”
Taylor, director of the DFAP outreach office in Vicksburg, urges farmers from all parts of Mississippi to apply for the program right away because of the close deadline.
“This is something for real and not a pipe dream,” he says. “We sat at the table with congressmen nationwide and discussed this program before it was presented to the public in July. There’re too many public figures and politicians connected with this program to say that it is a scam. It’s definitely real, and it’s more real to some people than the Pigford case.”
“Statistically, we’re running well ahead of any other state in the USA. We’ve actually processed over 2,000 applications through our office here in Vicksburg,” Davis said.
“I’m a believer in the old saying that procrastination kills progress. If you think you have an adequate reason to pursue an application, you need to move on it. An opportunity like this may not come but once in 20 years. Or once in a lifetime. If you’ve got a case of discrimination, or you felt you’ve been discriminated through your dealings with the USDA in particular, you should pursue action, because once this movement is over there will not be an appeal. And I’d hate for a person to wind up wishing that they could have, should have applied.”
Taylor can be reached at the DFAP Outreach Center in Vicksburg at 601-629-7791.
Samantha Green, DFAP outreach manager for northern Mississippi and the Memphis area, says the response in her region has been running at full throttle since the program began in July.
“The turnout here is very good,” Green said from Memphis. “I’m booked up almost every day. Whenever I’ve done outreach in northern Mississippi and the Memphis Metropolitan area, I’ve always gotten great responses.
“I can’t predict what’s going to happen once all the applications are in,’’ she said. “I just make sure that the applications are complete and in order. If you have experienced discrimination in the farm loan application process in a USDA office, I encourage you to tell your story, because if you don’t tell your story, then no one will know about your discrimination.”
The contact number for Samantha Green is: 615-963-5438.
The Department of Agriculture has admitted to habitually denying and shortchanging Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who applied for farm loans and other USDA services that were freely provided to white farmers for most of the past century.
The Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit of 1999 was the first effort of the USDA to compensate Black, Native American, and women farmers for the acts of discrimination perpetrated against them in the years 1981-996. Pigford I & II totaled about $2.1 billion altogether, with individual payouts of $50,000 for about 30,000 farmers.
In 2021, the $1.3 trillion American Rescue Plan Act allocated $5 billion for the Emergency Relief of Farmers of Color Act. But that program was challenged by certain anti-Affirmative Action groups on the basis that it discriminated against white farmers and it was subsequently blocked by a federal judge.
Congressional Democrats reworked the plan and made it a part of President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, avoiding references to race and promoting instead relief for distressed farmers and offering compensation for all farmers who were discriminated against by USDA for a number of different reasons prior to Jan. 3, 2021.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has opted for transparency and trust in the DFAP program designed to amend some of the past wrongs.
“USDA knows it must earn the trust of the farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who are eligible for this program. That makes transparency in the administration of the Discrimination Financial Assistance Program crucial,” Vilsack said in announcing extension of the application deadline. “In that spirit, after receiving feedback from organizations that have been supporting producers throughout the application process, we have made the decision to extend the deadline. We believe this is the appropriate action to take to ensure all eligible individuals wishing to apply are adequately informed about the program and have the opportunity to receive any necessary assistance.”
The Discrimination Financial Assistance Program (DFAP) began July 7, 2023. The original deadline was October 31, 2023. That deadline has been extended to Jan. 13, 2024. because a group of agricultural producers and individual farmers insisted that the deadline should be extended in order to give more people a chance to apply.
Details about the program, including an application and e-filing portal, are available at 22007apply.gov. Applicants can also call the free call center at 1-800-721-0970.
Filing an application is free and does not require a lawyer. The application period is open and runs through Jan. 13, although it is advisable to submit the completed application well before the deadline.
For online assistance, www.22007apply.gov, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the national call center at 1-800-721-0970 from 8 a.m. ET to 8 p.m. PT, every day except federal holidays.