Trump’s farmer bailout flows to city slickers

Trump’s farmer bailout flows to city slickers
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We’re learning the first details of the Department of Agriculture’s bailout for farmers whose exports were hit by President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE’s trade war. Department records show that more than 1,000 payments were made to “city slickers” who live in the nation’s largest cities, according to information the Environmental Working Group has obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

So far, the USDA has pledged to provide up to $12 billion to offset the impacts of Trump’s trade war. The first round includes $4.7 billion in direct payments to growers of soybeans, corn, cotton, sorghum, wheat, hogs, dairy, sweet cherries and shelled almonds.

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The data includes almost 88,000 payments made through Oct. 31, totaling $356 million. That’s less than one-tenth of the amount the administration expects to make through Trump’s Market Facilitation Program.

But our analysis of this small slice of data reveals that 1,142 bailout payments were made to “farmers” in the nation’s 50 largest cities, including nine residents of San Francisco, four residents of Los Angeles, five residents of New York City and four residents of Washington, D.C. 

Based on this sample, it’s reasonable to expect that more than 20,000 big-city “farmers” will ultimately receive bailout payments. That number would be consistent with an earlier EWG analysis, which found that nearly 20,000 people living in the nation’s largest cities received farm subsidy payments in 2017.

How is this possible? It would be easy to blame Congress, as Congress has consistently failed to require that farm subsidy recipients contribute personal labor to the farm. The Government Accountability Office recently found that nearly one-fourth of farm subsidy recipients do not work on the farm.

But in this case, the president had the discretion to deny bailout payments to city slickers. He didn’t – even after he proposed to tighten eligibility requirements for farm subsidies in his budget.

Instead, Trump simply applied the same rules that have allowed city slickers to collect subsidies for decades. EWG recently found hundreds of city slickers who have received farm subsidies for 33 straight years. The farm bill passed by the House could actually make this problem worse by allowing a farmer’s cousins, nieces and nephews to also receive subsidies, regardless of whether they live or work on the farm.

 

Here’s what else we found when we looked at payments to actual farmers, not city slickers: Many of the payments are well above the $125,000 payment limit announced by USDA. Overall, 85 recipients received more than $125,000.

What’s more, some of the farmers receiving support through Trump’s bailout program have already received millions of dollars in government assistance.

The largest recipient of the bailout funds so far, Red Gum Planting Company, in Louisiana, received $439,120 from the bailout, but has previously received almost $6 million in taxpayer support. 

The second largest recipient of bailout funds, Maxwell Farms, in Louisiana, has previously received more than $15 million in federal support. The third largest bailout recipient has previously gotten $8.9 million; the fourth has received $19.3 million.

In addition to these bailout funds, farmers like Red Gum Planting and Maxwell Farms will almost certainly receive additional farm subsidies this year, through subsidy programs like the Price Loss Coverage program and through their taxpayer-subsidized revenue insurance policies. In other words, some of these farmers will be triple-dipping from the federal treasury.

Are these farms the family farms most in need of assistance? Hardly.

Trump could have applied a tougher means test for the bailout program to target tax dollars to farmers most in need. In fact, in his budget, Trump proposed to tighten the current means test to deny subsidies to farm households that have annually cleared more than $1 million.

But when given the chance to apply a tougher means test to his farmer bailout payments, the president instead chose to side with the millionaires and stick with the current, far weaker means test.

Here again, the House farm bill would again make this problem even worse by waiving the current means test entirely for certain kinds of corporate farms.

No wonder the nation’s leading conservative voices — groups such as Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity — have urged Congress to reject a farm bill that would include this provision or the other House provision extending the farm subsidy family tree to cousins, nieces and nephews.

Our farm safety net should help those family farmers — not city slickers and not millionaires — facing ruin from Trump’s trade war.

Scott Faber is the vice president for government affairs for the Environmental Working Group.