Certain farmers could benefit from federal lawsuit - Houston weather, traffic, news | FOX 26 | MyFoxHouston

Certain farmers could benefit from federal lawsuit

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

Texas is believed to have moreresidents than any other state who are owed money in a major federal classaction lawsuit settlement. The problem is most people don't have aclue. Haveyou ever heard of this?

"The largestcivil rights lawsuit in the history of this country," explains Thomas Burrellthe president of the Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association.

The federal government has set aside morethan a billion dollars to pay black, Hispanic, Native American and female farmersafter the U.S. Department of Agriculture allegedly discriminated againstminority farmers from 1981 to 2000.  

"By frustrating and delaying anddenying them loans and access to credit," says Burrell.

"When our tractor would break down wecouldn't get a loan to fix our equipment," Gertha Phlegm explains. Shesays the racial discrimination growing up on a farm was overwhelming in manyways. 

"That was the only time my mother allowed us to curse because thewhite guys were coming over to our land shooting our hogs, killing ourpoultry," says Phlegm.  Although it was hermother's farm there in Arkansas, Phlegm is filing a claim to get a share of thesettlement money and that is perfectly acceptable.  Relatives can file forfamily members. 

"Most of the victims themselves may be dead orincapacitated.  The heir now can step in and file a claim on behalf ofthat person who was discriminated against," explains Burrell.

Don Phlegm is filing for his deceasedgrandfather who farmed in San Jacinto County. "Trying to get loans toupgrade his equipment was an obstacle," says Don Phlegm.  

"Texas has the largest number of blackfarmers and landowners than any other state," adds Burrell.  If youbelieve your family's farm faced discrimination there is a 16-page form youneed to fill out.  The form has to be filed by May 1, 2013.  So thedeadline is quickly approaching.

"The opportunity to partake in this once ina lifetime opportunity for the admitted discrimination by the USDA is going toend May 1," Burrell points out.  He is traveling the countryspreading the word about the settlement and the upcoming deadline.  He says you won't need DNA or any significant documentation to receive some ofthe settlement.  A birth certificate showing the occupation of the farmermight help.  The average payout will be $50,000.  The moredocumentation you have, the more money you get. 

"Some guys lost theirwhole farm," says Burrell.

You can find the form to file your claim inthe settlement by visiting www.farmerclaims.gov

The Black Farmers Association (www.bfaa-us.org) will be in Houston the rest of the week helping families fill out theform.  If you miss the May 1st deadline you cannot file after that. You do not have to present your documentation and evidence when you file yourclaim.  Just fill out the form and begin gathering your documents to besubmitted at a later time.

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