April 23, 2009  
Contact: Heather Gray - 404 765 0991

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack Issues Historic Directives to
Address Civil Rights Problems at the USDA
The Secretary calls for a Moratorium on Foreclosures against Farmers

ATLANTA....Yesterday President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, made an historic and significant shift in USDA administrative policies in an attempt to rectify the civil rights problems within the United States Department of Agriculture and throughout the USDA’s national offices. The Secretary, in fact, has prioritized civil rights at the outset of his appointment. There were 14 points in the memo the Secretary has sent yesterday to USDA employees that are now posted on the USDA website at .

In the press release, Vilsack said, "These are just the first actions in a continuing effort to ensure that the civil rights of USDA constituents and employees are respected and protected. This memorandum reflects my deep commitment to changing the direction of civil rights and program delivery in USDA by creating a comprehensive approach to guarantee fair treatment of all employees and applicants."

Ralph Paige, the Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund said of these initiatives, “I applaud the Secretary for his bold and much needed actions to address civil rights problems at the USDA. And this applies not only to the legendary and disgraceful discrimination faced by minority farmers at USDA agencies throughout the country, but also to address the discrimination within the USDA itself with hiring and promotion practices.”

At the beginning of Secretary Vilsack’s term at the USDA he has demonstrated his concern about civil rights. In fact, his first visit to a group outside of Washington was to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund’s Black Farmers Conference in February 21, 2009 – but one month after his appointment. The Secretary shared with the black farmers in attendance that he was developing plans on what do to about civil rights problems at USDA. He said,  “I’m here today as my first visit, to this audience, to send a message about ‘this USDA’ today. We’re serious about civil rights.”  He shared some of his initiatives already in place and that there would be more coming from his office. Yesterday with Vilsack’s 14 point memo we are witnessing the first of these important policy changes as it relates to the USDA itself and the Black Farmer Lawsuit (known as the Pigford case). (To read his comments please go to  )

One of the most significant directives by the Secretary was a moratorium on all foreclosures for at least 90 days to ensure there is no discriminatory association with the FSA loans being addressed in the foreclosures.  

Under the Bush administration, the Federation requested a moratorium on foreclosures that Black farmers were experiencing, which included even some successful claimants in the Black farmer lawsuit.

“The Bush administration’s USDA denied our request for a moratorium,” said Ralph Paige. “We are exceptionally pleased with the reversal of Bush position by Secretary Vilsack. Maybe now, under the Obama administration, we will see some justice for black farmers and other minority farmers throughout the country. Again, I applaud the Secretary for this important and much needed change at USDA.”

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 41st year,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability.