The Farmers Home Administration, after repeated appeals to give farmers more time to ask for loan restructuring, kept its 45-day deadline but said supporting documents can be filed after the cutoff date next month.
The agency sent delinquency notices in mid-November to 83,000 farmers who hold $8.3 billion in overdue loans. Most of the money is more than three years past due. The notices gave borrowers 45 days to notify FmHA that they want to seek restructuring or forgiveness of part of their debts.FmHA Administrator LaVerne Ausman said in a statement the agency cannot change the deadline. But he said FmHA will respect good-faith efforts to meet the deadline and will allow some documents to be filed after that date.
At a minimum, three documents must be submitted before the deadline, which falls in mid- to late-January. They are FmHA forms 410-1, "Application for FmHA Services, 431-2, "Farm and Home Plan," including the balance sheet, and either Attachment Two, "Acknowledgement of Notice of Program Availability," or Attachment Four, "Response to Notice Informing Me of FmHA's Intent to Accelerate My Loan."
Critics have said the government was giving farmers too little time with the 45-day limit to compile and submit a large amount of material. On Thursday, 11 senators suggested a two-week extension of the deadline. They said borrowers were faced with completing nine documents despite holiday season disruptions in the operations of banks and government agencies.
"There's just no way we can legally stretch it," Ausman said of the deadline. "We must hear from the farmer within that time."
Failure to respond to the delinquency notice could trigger FmHA acceleration of loan collection.
Ausman said supporting documents will be accepted after the 45-day period upon approval of county FmHA officials. He said the documents should be provided as soon as possible. FmHA has 60 days to reply to requests for restructuring.
The agency said it hopes to complete restructuring requests from many farmers in time for spring planting.
"We have advised our field offices to use a test of reasonableness with borrowers, who, through no fault of their own, are unable to complete all the forms on time," Ausman said. "For example, if because of illness or other circumstances beyond his or her control, a farmer couldn't obtain all the information he or she needed, we won't be hard-nosed if they have given us completed response forms, and farm and home plans.
"But we are looking for evidence of a good-faith effort on the part of the borrower to get all the forms in a timely manner."
While critics have said the notices were the first step toward possible foreclosure on thousands of farmers, FmHA officials say the notices will open the door to debt relief for many borrowers. The 1987 agricultural credit law requires the FmHA to restructure loans whenever it would be cheaper than liquidating a loan.