- Associated Press - Friday, August 5, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - About 150 groups from around the country that provide services to American Indian farmers and ranchers have applied to receive grant money from a $38 million one-time fund set up as part of the federal government’s loan discrimination settlement with Native Americans.

An advisory committee will whittle down the proposals and make a recommendation to a federal judge by Oct. 17 on which groups should get money. There is no set number of groups that will be funded, and when they will actually get the money is unclear, according to Christine Webber, a plaintiff’s attorney.

The Obama administration in 2011 agreed to pay $680 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999 by Indian farmers who said they were denied loans for decades because of government discrimination. The lead plaintiffs were George and Marilyn Keepseagle, who are ranchers on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

More than $380 million remained after claims were paid out. In April, a judge approved a plan for the money that included additional payments to claimants, a $265 million trust that will distribute funds at the direction of an independent board of trustees for up to 20 years, and the $38 million “fast track fund” to get some money out to nonprofits more quickly.

“It takes a while to get an organization as big as the trust up and running,” Webber said. “There was interest in, while that may take a year or so to do, that there be some money distributed more quickly than that. People have been waiting a long time for this.”

Nonprofit organizations, tribal programs and education institutions that assist Native American producers were eligible to apply to the fast track fund. Grant awards will vary depending on several factors, including the focus and scope of the proposed work.

There is still more legal wrangling before any money from the fund is likely to be disbursed, as one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, Keith Mandan, in late June appealed the modification of the settlement agreement.

“I have no expectation of the court acting (on fund recommendations) before the appeal is resolved,” Webber said.

Mandan’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment on the appeal.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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