The USDA has announced that the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has significantly reduced the number of civil rights complaints in fiscal year 2010 to the lowest level in the agency's history, while increasing the number of loans and dollar amount obligated to programs dedicated to minority and women farmers for fiscal year 2011.
"The loan numbers reflect the significant progress we have made in the effort to equally serve all eligible applicants for FSA program support," said Bruce Nelson, FSA Administrator. "Under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, the Farm Service Agency is committed to diversity, inclusion and performance like never before, for the benefit of our customers and our employees. At USDA, we understand that the work we do makes a positive impact on the lives of the American people every single day, in so many ways."
Over the last fiscal year, FSA's loan division conducted business with 70,000 borrowers and provided support to 1.9 million producers through its farm programs. Out of the nearly 2 million producers the agency has served, 37 complaints were received — the lowest number filed since the agency began. During the same year, more than 5,650 loans and $509 million in support were obligated to minority and women farmers under FSA's loan programs.
Funding obligated for minority and women farmers has increased in fiscal year 2011 by 9 percent over the same period last year, to $554 million as of September 27, 2011. The largest increase has come in guaranteed farm ownership loans. These loans, which help producers obtain commercial credit to establish or maintain a family farm or ranch, have increased 40 percent to $161.8 million for minority and women farmers.
In addition to improvements in lending practices to minority and women producers, FSA has seen an overall improvement in its loan portfolio. Losses in the direct loan program fell to 1.2 percent, its second lowest level since 1986, while direct loan delinquency has been at historic lows not seen for the past two decades, resting at 5.9 percent. Delinquency rates for fiscal year 2010 under the guaranteed loan program were at 1.69 percent, the second lowest since 1995. Foreclosure rates remain low with just 64 completed in fiscal year 2010. That represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the agency's direct loan caseload.
As a result of this progress, Joe Leonard, USDA Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, presented FSA with a "Job Well Done" award in December 2010. The award underscores efforts made by USDA to improve its service after years of litigation alleging unfair treatment to women and minority farmers and ranchers.
"This recognition lets us know that we are on the right track and we will continue to work diligently, with a zero-tolerance attitude toward discriminatory practices, to ensure that all of our customers are treated fairly," said Nelson.
The FY2010 Report of Civil Rights Complaints, Resolutions, and Actions, as required by the 2008 farm bill, is available here.
Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership, USDA is addressing civil rights complaints that go back decades to resolve allegations of past discrimination and usher in "a new era of civil rights" for the Department. In February 2010, the Secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers. In February 2011, Secretary Vilsack announced the establishment of a process to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers. An overview of Secretary Vilsack's comprehensive efforts is available here.