The period to file a claim in the Keepseagle class action settlement for Native American farmers and ranchers has opened, says Janie Hipp, senior adviser for tribal relations to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Now that the claims process is open, Native American farmers and ranchers who believe they are entitled to funds under the Keepseagle settlement must file a claim within 180 days in order to have a chance to receive a cash payment or loan forgiveness," Hipp says. The filing period opened June 29 and continues until Dec. 27.

"Tribal leaders may want to consider advising Tribal members of the requirement to obtain and submit a completed claims package if they wish to participate in the Keepseagle claims process."

Keepseagle v. Vilsack was a lawsuit alleging that USDA discriminated against Native American farmers and ranchers in the operation of its farm loan program. The lawsuit was settled in 2010 and the settlement approved by the court.

Up to $760 million will be made available in monetary, debt and tax relief to successful claimants. There are two tracks for claims: Successful Track A claimants may receive up to $50,000, while successful Track B claimants may receive up to $250,000. The standard of proof for Track B claims is higher than that for Track A.

Keepseagle class counsel will hold a number of meetings in the coming months to assist Track A claimants fill out a claims package. Dates and times are posted at www.indianfarmclass.com/.

Claimant services reps can be reached at 888-233-5506. Claimants must register for a claims package (call the number or visit the website) and the claims package will be mailed to claimants. All those interested in learning more or receiving information about the claims process and claims packages are encouraged to attend a meeting and contact the website or claims telephone number.