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Equitable Relief

Introduction

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, Public Law 107-171, Section 1613 (2002 Farm Bill) has set forth provisions where NRCS program participants, as defined at Section 1613(a)(3), may apply for equitable relief when a determination of non-compliance with a covered conservation program requirement has been issued.

Equitable Relief Rule

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NRCS Policy for Equitable Relief

Equitable Relief Definitions

  • An Agricultural Commodity is any food, feed, fiber, or livestock that is subject to a covered program.
  • A Covered Program is any conservation program administered by NRCS.
  • A Participant is a person or entity that has applied for and been accepted for participation in any covered program.
  • Acting in Good Faith is incorrectly applying the required conservation system, practice, or operation and maintenance component as directed by an NRCS employee.
  • A Good Faith Effort is a covered program participant' efforts at applying the required conservation system, practice, or operation and maintenance component, albeit incorrectly, but without an intent to defraud NRCS through a scheme or device, or other attempt to perform less than the requirements of the program.

Requirements

In order for an NRCS conservation program participant to be eligible for any form of equitable relief from an ineligibility or a violation of any covered program benefit, the participant must have either:

  • Acted in good faith by relying on the action or advice of a NRCS employee that is detrimental to the NRCS conservation program participant.
  • Made a good faith effort, but failed to complete all of the requirements for the covered conservation program.

Limitations to Providing Equitable Relief

The total amount of equitable relief for all loans, payments, and benefits for which relief may be provided to an NRCS conservation program participant shall not exceed $20,000. In addition, the following limitations also apply:

  • A program participant who has already received $5,000 or more in relief for all loans, payments, and benefits for which relief has been requested is not eligible for any further relief.
  • Where equitable relief has been requested due to a particular action or advice that operates to the detriment of more than one participant, the total amount of loans, payments, and benefits for which relief is provided to the similarly situated participants shall not exceed $1 million.
  • The financial or technical liability for any action by a participant that was taken based on the advice of a NRCS certified non-USDA Technical Service Provider will remain with the certified Technical Service Provider and will not be assumed by NRCS when NRCS authorizes payment.

Exclusions to the Equitable Relief Provisions

NRCS program participants are not eligible for any type of equitable relief from the following:

  • Payment Limitations as set forth in the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended, Sections 1001 through 1001F (7 U.S.C. 1308 et seq.) of a conservation program administered by NRCS.

     

  • The Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation requirements set forth under Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended (16 U.S.C. 3811-3824).

Forms of Equitable Relief

Those USDA program participants seeking equitable relief from covered program requirements include the following:

  • Ability to retain loans, payments, or other benefits.
  • A continuation of the ability to receive loans, payments or other benefits.
  • Ability to continue participating in the covered conservation program, either in whole or in part.
  • Ability to re-enroll all or part of their land in a covered conservation program.
  • Any other form of relief that the Secretary has determined to be appropriate.

Remedial Actions Required

In return for granting a USDA conservation program participant's request for equitable relief, NRCS may require that the conservation program participant take remedial actions to correct the failure to comply fully with the conservation program provisions. This may include, but is not limited to the following actions:

  • Repair or replacement of the damaged conservation practice, conservation system, or operation and maintenance requirements.
  • Purchase of additional equipment, materials, or other items that will enable the covered conservation program participant to fully comply with the program provisions.
  • Revision of the conservation plan or conservation system to be implemented.
  • Revision of the operation and maintenance plan.
  • Remediation of the violation or item found in non-compliance shall be commensurate with the overall covered conservation program provisions, purposes, and functions.

Approval Authority with OGC Consultation

The Chief or the State Conservationist shall only grant a covered NRCS conservation program participant's request for equitable relief after consultation with and approval by the appropriate Office of the General Counsel (OGC). All requests for equitable relief for a covered NRCS conservation program participant shall be submitted in writing, with the following information submitted by the program participant:

  • The covered conservation program under which relief is sought.
  • The nature of the violation or contract non-compliance.
  • The amount and type of relief sought.
  • USDA Conservation Program Participant's name and address.
  • The date of the request

Other Authority

The authority delegated to the Chief and State Conservationists for granting requests for equitable relief is in addition to any other applicable authorities in the administration of USDA conservation programs. This provision does not limit the State Conservationist's authority to grant waivers to specific conservation programs as provided by that program. The authority provided under Section 1613 of the 2002 Farm Bill is in addition to any other authority provided by any other authority.  Decisions by the Chief and/or State Conservationist's on equitable relief requests are not appealable.

Judicial Review

The authority to grant or deny a USDA program participant's request for equitable relief of non-compliance in a covered conservation program is final. The State Conservationist's final decision is not subject to Judicial Review under Chapter 7 of Title 5 of the United States Code. A State Conservationist's final decision to grant or deny a request for equitable relief is subject to review and reversal only by the Secretary, USDA, who may not delegate that authority.

Program Contact

Beth Schuler, 615-646-9741