City dwellers get millions in farm payments, report finds

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The report comes amid a standoff between the House and Senate in their effort pass a new five-year farm bill before the Oct. 1 expiration of the current farm bill.

Both the House and Senate-passed bills would end the direct payment program, which is paid out based on historic rather than actual crop production. Each then uses some of the savings to create new price and revenue-based subsidies and to increase spending government crop insurance. 

Ending direct payments is one of the few budget items both President Obama and House conservatives agree on. 

Deficit hawk Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in early August said he would opposed any extension of the current farm bill.  

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has seized on Flake’s opposition as part of her effort to prevent an extension and keep the pressure on to pass the five-year bill produced in her committee.

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“It’s indefensible, it really is, and I think the country recognizes that and reports like this explain it even more,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday. “It’s an affront to our system of budgeting and an affront to what taxpayers expect of their money.” 

Flake said 75 senators have gone on record saying that its time to end direct payments.

“Direct payments need to end, certainly in any new iteration of the farm bill, and if we have an extension, they need to end during the extension as well,” he said. 

He noted reform efforts made by Stabenow but projected that, “an extension is more likely, just given what else is on the calendar, but if they [the House] can negotiate something, then more power to them.”

The main obstacle to a new farm bill is a dispute over what to do with the $740 billion food stamp program. The Senate wants to cut $4 billion over 10 years and House leaders are preparing a bill that would cut $40 billion. That bill is slated for a vote next week. 

Chris Campbell, EWG Vice-President for Information Technology said that there are 1.2 million recipients of the Direct Payment Program nationwide, costing taxpayers nearly $5 billion a year.