The United States Department of Agriculture is responding to claims that Hispanic and female farmers have been discriminated against by extending the deadline to file a complaint to May 1. The claims may help these groups of Wisconsin farmers avoid personal bankruptcy by paying cash awards or exercising loan forgiveness.

The claims affect Hispanic and female farmers who were denied loans or loan servicing assistance between 1981 and 2000 by the USDA. Potential claims must be filed by the deadline, and those who believe they may have a claim are urged to contact the USDA prior to the new deadline.

This process is a voluntary alternative to filing a lawsuit, and it will make available about $1.33 billion in cash awards and relief from tax payments, as well as an additional $160 million in debt relief. There are no fees to participate in the program, which will be administered by independent contractors. Claims administrators are available to answer questions although participants are also free to seek independent legal counsel.

Farmers and other individuals who have suffered financial setbacks due to possible discriminatory loan practices may benefit from consulting bankruptcy attorneys. Attorneys may be able to review the documents associated with a loan refusal, a tax bill or other financial issues and assist the individuals in understanding their rights in regard to these debts. For some debtors, filing bankruptcy may be the right choice to discharge debts; for others, alternative debt relief methods such as the program offered by the USDA may be the best solution to their financial issues.

Source: Wisconsin Ag Connection, “Deadline extended for Hispanic, women farmer claims,” March 26, 2013