HOPE Helps USDA Farmers Lawsuit Claimants Make the Most of Their Settlements

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HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation/Hope Credit Union) is providing important resources to help familes receiving settlement checks from the USDA Black Farmers lawsuit to make the most of their money. Free financial counseling and affordable credit union accounts will enable farmers and their heirs to create a more stable financial future.

Farmers from the East Arkansas Enterprise Community

Farmers from the East Arkansas Enterprise Community

Many people who would never have had the money to save for retirement, buy a home, or start a business will suddenly have the means to do so. We want them to make the most of this chance.

Farmers’ and their descendants across the Mid South have big decisions to make as they begin receiving settlement checks from the Pigford II Black Farmers Discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 7,500 claimants in the region will receive awards of $50,000. The settlement proceeds represent a unique opportunity for many of these families and HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation/Hope Credit Union) is providing resources that will help them make the most of the funds they receive.

“There will be thousands of low-wealth families who suddenly have the prospect of building a much brighter financial future for themselves,” said HOPE CEO Bill Bynum. “Many people who would never have had the money to save for retirement, buy a home, or start a business will suddenly have the means to do so. We want them to make the most of this chance.”

One significant concern among advocacy groups and public officials is that many of the recipients don’t have significant experience with financial systems and may not understand the implication of the choices they make regarding the settlement. For people who have lived paycheck to paycheck or have managed their funds on a cash basis, managing $50,000 could be overwhelming.

“My mom, her mother, and my great grandparents once grew sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peanuts and other crops that sustained them nutritionally and financially,” said Bynum. “The sweat of our forefathers laid the foundation for many of us to realize educational, financial and other achievements that discrimination barred them from experiencing. My daughter and nephew are benefiting from my forebears' sacrifice and wisdom, as will future generations, because we were able to preserve and leverage the assets they worked so hard to acquire.”

In order to promote sound financial decision making by recipients, HOPE is providing resources to affected families. From free financial counseling to discounted account and loan services, HOPE is equipping families who are part of the settlement with the knowledge and tools to see the biggest benefit from the award.

HOPE will offer free comprehensive financial counseling, including credit history review and management, spending plan guidance, and asset building advice with long term planning to settlement recipients. Counseling services are available toll-free at 1-888-246-6314 or online at http://www.hopecu.org by clicking on the “Counseling” icon on the main page.

“Meeting with a financial counselor is the first line of defense for someone who receives a large amount of money and isn’t sure about what to do with it,” said HOPE Counseling Director Laura Repp. “Those who go through a financial counseling session will have all the information they need to determine their best course of action.”

In the Mid South where the majority of the settlements will be paid, African Americans are disproportionately unbanked or under banked, and resort to using non-regulated financial institutions, like payday lenders. Hope Credit Union represents an affordable, responsible alternative to people who need a financial institution for making settlement deposits and accessing the funds. The credit union is offering free membership to award recipients and providing mortgage and small business loan incentives to encourage prudent savings and borrowing.

“We want to advocate for these people, and help them try to avoid the myriad of financial scams like the ones that ensued following Hurricane Katrina,” said Bynum. “The settlement is a once in a lifetime event for a distressed population in our region, those African American families to boost their economic prospects now and for future generations, as their grandparents and great grandparents did by buying land to farm.”

There are more than 7,500 settlement recipients in HOPE's service areas of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The credit union is working with partners to help deliver information and resources to successful claimants. Organizations who serve the recipient population can contact HOPE for information and resource materials by calling 1-866-843-3358 or emailing info@hopecu.org.

The Pigford II Black Farmers Discrimination lawsuit is case number 08-mc-0511 and was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

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About HOPE
HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation/Hope Credit Union) is a community development financial institution, community development intermediary and policy center that provides affordable financial services; leverages private, public and philanthropic resources; and engages in policy analysis in order to fulfill its mission of strengthening communities, building assets, and improving lives in economically distressed parts of the Mid South.

Since 1994, HOPE has generated more than $1.7 billion in financing and related services for the unbanked and underbanked, entrepreneurs, homeowners, nonprofit organizations, health care providers and other community development purposes. Collectively, these projects have benefitted more than 400,000 individuals in the Delta, Katrina-affected areas and other distressed communities throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. This impact has been substantially multiplied by HOPE’s policy and intermediary efforts, which have informed and influenced the flow of public and private resources to assist disenfranchised people and places across the Mid South and nationwide.

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Scot Slay
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