05/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Pervasive Numbers of Discrimination Complaints at USDA

Discrimination of minority farmers by employees at the United States Department of Agriculture may be more pervasive than originally thought.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack contends Latinos, Native Americans and women have open complaints of discrimination before the Justice Department. The White House and the Department of Agriculture have encouraged the Justice Department to engage with the plantiff's attorneys.

Since presiding over the Department during the past year, Vilsack reveals, "some of the Hispanic farmer grievances are not part of class action cases and Hispanics could have tens of thousands of lawsuits" against the agency. In this instance, there are "individual cases representing individual farmers."

Vilsack is adamant the cases are things of the past dating back 10 to 20 years ago on various issues. He says "It could be farm loans, it could be rural development, it could be folks who felt they were discriminated against based on farming operations in efforts to get farm loans or guarantees."

An internal review of operations, promotions and hiring at the Department of Agriculture is underway. The effort is to "reduce the number of civil rights and equal opportunity complaints. Also, a consultant is conducting an external audit of programs to find "other problem areas that could give rise to future complaints," confirms Vilsack.

"This is a new day at the Department of Agriculture," says Secretary Vilsak.

Currently, 80 to 90 thousand black farmers have been waiting 15 years for financial restitution after a discrimination settlement in the Pigford ll class action lawsuit. The lawsuit stems from discrimination in the USDA's Farm Loan Program.

President Obama appropriated 1.25 billion dollars in his 2011 budget for the black farmers. The deadline for Congressional approval is March 31, 2010.

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