By BEN EVANS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration on Tuesday offered $1.3 billion to settle complaints from female and Latino farmers who say they faced discrimination from the Agriculture Department.
The proposal comes as Congress is poised to approve a $1.25 billion settlement with African-American farmers in a similar discrimination case. The agency also is negotiating with Native American farmers over another lawsuit.
Details of the latest offer were provided to The Associated Press by a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement has not been finalized.
The Latino and female farmers, whose lawsuits were filed a decade ago, have sought a larger settlement, and Stephen Hill, an attorney representing Latinos, suggested the cases remain far from being resolved.
Under the proposal, the government would reach out to farming communities to make women and Latinos aware of the settlement. Successful claimants could get a maximum of $50,000, but the awards could be lower depending on how many people win claims.
"It's disappointing that they have not seen fit to offer what we think is a just proposal," Hill said, declining to discuss specifics of the offer. "The administration still has a ways to go in order to treat Hispanic farmers and ranchers fairly, and on par with other victims of discrimination."
Thousands of minorities and women say local USDA offices for years denied them loans and other assistance that routinely went to whites.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has emphasized resolving the cases and closing what he calls a "sordid" chapter in the agency's history.
"We have made significant progress on addressing USDA's civil rights record and look forward to providing substantial relief to Hispanic and women farmers in an expedited manner," Vilsack said in a statement.
Along with the black farmers case, Congress currently is considering a $3.4 billion settlement reached by the Obama administration with Native Americans over lands trust funds mismanaged by the Interior Department.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.