ICYMI: New York Times: Independent Watchdog Report Finds Inequity in Farm Aid Payments

Washington, DC – In Case You Missed It, the New York Times reported on new analysis from the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found the Trump Administration’s payments to farmers harmed by the President’s trade turmoil ultimately created deep regional inequities, favored certain crops over others, and funneled money to large agricultural operations over smaller farms.

The report found that southern farmers benefitted significantly compared to other regions. Eight of the top nine states with the highest payments per acre were in the South. On average, Southern farmers received higher payments compared to individual farmers in any other region. Georgia leads the nation with average payments of $42,545 per farmer, more than triple the average $14, 027 payment received by Ohio farmers, and more than double the average national payment.

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade, joined Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, in a press call to announce the report’s findings. The report is the result of an independent GAO investigation requested by Sen. Stabenow in February after Senate Democrats raised concerns about unfairness and mismanagement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market Facilitation Program. Stabenow and Brown were joined yesterday by farmers to announce the report and discuss the findings.

The New York Times story can be found here and below:

New York Times: Independent Watchdog Report Finds Inequity in Farm Aid Payments 

By: Alan Rappaport

September 14, 2020

Big farms, along with Southern farmers, disproportionately benefited from the trade assistance program, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Trump administration’s multibillion dollar farm aid program, managed by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, has poured a disproportionate amount of money into big farms and southern states, including the secretary’s home state of Georgia, according to report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office.

The findings by the nonpartisan watchdog agency supported some of the criticisms leveled at the White House and President Trump by Democrats and advocacy groups, who have accused the administration of mismanaging the $23 billion program that the president started in 2018 to blunt the effects of his trade war with China on American farmers. The study, which was requested by Senate Democrats, assessed the $14.5 billion in payments that were made last year.

The report, along with a separate analysis of it by Senate Democrats, found that Georgia farmers received an average of $42,545 from the program — more than twice the national average of $16,507 and the highest average per acre in the country.

It also found that eight of the top nine states — measured by average payments per acre of farmland — were in the South, a region at the heart of Mr. Trump’s political base. More generous payment rates for cotton and sorghum, which are grown in Southern states, were part of the reason for the disparity, the report said.

Big farms also received the largest payments, the report found, with the top 25 recipients getting an average of $1.5 million each.

In the midst of his trade fights with China, Europe, Canada and Mexico, Mr. Trump moved to lessen the blow to farmers, who were targeted for retaliation by those countries after the United States imposed tariffs on foreign metals and Chinese goods.

China, in particular, tried to inflict pain on American farms by limiting imports of soybeans, corn and pork, hurting Mr. Trump’s political base. Farm income has been weak across the United States since the trade war began, with bankruptcies rising.

Mr. Trump responded by greenlighting payouts for farmers hurt by his trade war, but that effort quickly became a sensitive political issue as Democrats accused the president of essentially paying off his core supporters to pursue his policy goals.

On a conference call on Monday, Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, accused Mr. Trump of neglecting the Midwest by allocating so much money to Southern farms.

“He’s betrayed Midwestern farmers, just like he’s betrayed Midwestern autoworkers,” Mr. Brown said.

And Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, suggested that Mr. Perdue, the former governor of Georgia, was embroiled in a conflict of interest.

“He certainly put together a program that favored the crops in his state,” Ms. Stabenow said.

In terms of overall payment totals, however, substantial amounts of farm aid were deployed outside the South. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than $1 billion apiece went to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas.

Senior Agriculture Department officials pushed back on Monday against the suggestion that the farm aid had been politicized. They accused critics of the program of cherry-picking the data and noted that the payments were specifically intended to help farmers that had been targeted by China with retaliatory tariffs and without regard to geography. They also pointed out that the average small farm was actually paid more per acre than large farms and that nearly 70 percent of the money paid through the program went to the Midwest.

The Agriculture Department also rejected the notion that Mr. Perdue had nefariously directed money to help Georgia farmers and called on Democrats to propose ways to improve the program.

“While the Democrats in Congress have been launching false attacks about U.S.D.A.’s M.F.P. program for months, they have yet to offer concrete ideas on how to make the program stronger,” said Alec Varsamis, an Agriculture Department spokesman, referring to the program’s formal name, the Market Facilitation Program.