GAO launches investigation into Trump aid for farmers

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's nonpartisan audit agency, is opening an investigation into a program providing aid to farmers hit by President TrumpDonald John TrumpCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE's trade wars.

“It’s clear that the Trump Administration’s trade assistance payments pick winners and losers rather than help the farmers who have been hit the hardest by this president’s trade policies,” said Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCoronavirus stimulus talks hit setback as crisis deepens Democrats call for stimulus to boost Social Security benefits by 0 a month Senate negotiators near agreement on keeping rebates in coronavirus stimulus package MORE (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, who requested the investigation last month.

“This investigation will shed more light on what has been happening, and bring accountability and fairness to a program that has spent billions of taxpayer dollars," she added.

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The Trump administration announced the aid program, called the Market Facilitation Program, in August of 2018, as a trade war with China heated up, leading to significant tariffs on U.S. agriculture such as soybeans.

The tariffs hit hard, leading to a spike in farm bankruptcies.

The Agriculture Department (USDA) pledged $12 billion in aid in 2018 and an additional $14.5 billion in 2019.

One study found that between disaster aid, trade aid, insurance indemnities and the trade assistance, almost 40 percent of farm income was coming from some sort of aid.

Stabenow raised concerns that the aid distribution was being decided by political considerations, with larger payouts going to Trump-voting red states in the South. She also had questions over whether USDA's methods for dispersing aid were preventing waste, fraud and abuse.

A USDA spokesperson said the methods had been transparent and on par with international methodologies. 

“The fact of the matter is that USDA has provided necessary funding to help farmers who have been impacted by unjustified retaliatory tariffs,” they said 
 
“While criticism is easy to come up with, we welcome constructive feedback from any member of Congress with recommendations as to how the program could be better administered,” they added. 
 
Updated at 5:12 p.m.