Dear Women Farmers:
I am writing to update you on the status of the women farmer’s court case and related legislation. I want to thank those who responded to my November letter asking for personal letters to be sent to Congress supporting legislation to resolve the claims of women farmers regarding discrimination in the granting and servicing of farm loans. We received many responsive letters, which we delivered to Congress. These letters have demonstrated to Congress that there is widespread support for settlement of the court case to allow women farmers to put past discrimination behind them.
As you may be aware, the 2007 Farm Bill that would establish farming policy for the next five years is currently pending before Congress. We have proposed an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill that would require changes in how the Department of Agriculture considers and processes loan applications for women farmers. The Senate version of the Farm Bill incorporates a more limited provision than what we proposed, but does request the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture to engage in settlement discussions in an attempt to resolve the pending discrimination lawsuit. This provision, if enacted, would not result in women farmers receiving any cash award, nor would it necessarily result in other changes at USDA, but it would open the door for discussions about settling the lawsuit. We are attempting to have Congress add other favorable terms to this provision and your letters have been helpful in our discussions.
Unfortunately, many of the provisions of the Farm Bill itself are considered controversial and have been the subject of much maneuvering in Congress. It is unclear at the present time whether Congress can actually succeed in passing a Farm Bill in the near future, and if so, whether any provisions for women farmers will be included. It is our hope that a Farm Bill with an amendment that includes remedies for the discrimination faced by women farmers will be passed in the near future, but the likelihood of that is uncertain. We will continue to advocate for such an amendment. You should not expect the legislation, even if it passes, to result in your receiving a cash payment.
I also have news regarding the court case. Unfortunately, the district court ruled against us on the remaining claims in the case, dismissing claims brought under the Administrative Procedure Act. More details about the ruling and a copy of the court’s opinion can be found on the case website at www.womenfarmers.com. We will appeal this decision, but the appeal process will take time and you should not expect to receive any money as a result of this case. If the district court’s ruling is upheld on appeal, the case could not proceed as a class action and claims could be pursued only by individual farmers. While we will press the appellate court to reverse the district court’s ruling and recognize the claims we have asserted so that the case can proceed as a class action, we would recommend that you consider proceeding with your own claims with other counsel. We are unable to represent you in connection with your individual claims. Because we cannot guarantee the outcome of the appeal, the best way for you to protect your own interests may be for you to retain counsel on your individual claim and proceed.
We will continue to keep the website current so you can find out developments with the Farm Bill and with the lawsuit. Please feel free to contact us through the website or call 202-715-8510 if you have questions about this.