Another take on the farm subsidies for billionaires report

Photo: screenshot from http://www.flickr.com/photos/pouser/ video. Some rights reserved.

Photo: screenshot from Mylla Ghdv video. Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

The Environmental Working Group's report that billionaires, including the founders of Microsoft, DISH Network, and Chick-Fil-A, received farm subsidies caught fire last week. Most every media outlet reported on the report, including The Dirt.  Connecticut Congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro, even wrote a letter to the 50 billionaires named in the report to ask if they'd also received crop insurance, which apparently is not public information. According to CT News Junkie:

In her letter, DeLauro asked the recipients to disclose whether they receive crop insurance subsidies as well.

“Since the crop insurance payments are not public, can you confirm what you have received in crop insurance subsidies and over what period?” DeLauro asked.

She pointed out that the Republican majority in the House chose to cut about $40 billion from the food stamp program, which is part of the farm bill, while preserving farm subsidies via crop insurance.

“We cannot look at food stamps alone,” DeLauro said in a statement accompanying the letter. “We must examine the Farm Bill in its entirety.”

Let's look a little closer at the report. EWG uses the odd time-frame of 1995-2012, a 17 year period. And it says 50 billionaires got $11.3 million in farm payments over that time. That amounts to an average of $664,705 a year, or an average of $13,294 per billionaire per year.

Now, I'm not in favor of billionaires getting any taxpayer money they don't deserve or qualify for. But, it's kinda chump change in the context of the $100 billion dollar a year price tag of the Farm Bill. That doesn't make it right, but it seems like the study is getting a lot of press for the small slice of pie it represents.

The farm industry lobbying group, Farm Policy Facts rips EWG, (H/T alert Dirt reader Kirby S.) pointing out that a lot of this information is old data, and many of the billionaires mentioned haven't received subsidies in years:

EWG failed to mention these individuals, like other wealthy non-billionaires, have received almost no money under the 2008 Farm Bill because Congress closed such loopholes long ago.

It also wasn’t very upfront about the fact that this data, being passed off as new information, is more than a decade old in most cases.

Ironically, the tiny bit of subsidy money going to billionaires in recent years appears to be tied to conservation – environmental subsidies that EWG supports and would like to expand. Not surprisingly, EWG glossed over conservation subsidies in its shoddy report, which again appears to be designed to garner anti-farmer headlines rather than to further public debate.

Rep. DeLauro appears to be asking the right question at this point, with crop insurance set to increase under any new Farm Bill: will billionaires be getting some of that money, and do they deserve it?

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2 Comments

  1. All crop insurance, and all flood insurance, should be privatized and unsubsidized. But if these programs are to be subsidized by the federal government, at least the names of recipients should be a matter of public record. I don't know if the EWG group submitted a "FOIA" request, but if they have not, they should. If it's not a public record, then Congress should act to make it public record. I wonder if "Farm Policy Facts" would object to this being a public record?

  2. 1. The words "chump change" "subsidies" and "billionaires" do not belong in the same article.
    2. The crux of the Farm Bill story is not that a few people are getting money they do not need, but that millions stand to lose money that they desperately need.

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