Meet the new farm bill. It’s a lot like the old farm bill.
In 2011 then-U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. released a report entitled “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous” that documented $316 million in farm subsidies that went to millionaires between 2002-2009. Recipients included rock stars Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen and many other wealth Americans who lived in urban areas. Even the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan got in on the action and collected more than $300,000 in farm subsidies.
Seven years later the nation of subsidies is alive and well.
House and Senate conferees hammered out a farm bill agreement that Congress hopes to pass during the lame duck session this month. The final version dropped the House’s proposal for new work requirements for welfare recipients. The agreement did not do anything to reign in farm subsidies. Despite grand calls for reform, “the swamp” has proven to be fertile ground for subsidies.
The transparency organization OpenTheBooks.com recently released an oversight report “Harvesting U.S. Farm Subsidies” that details the resilience of farm subsidies, even for the wealthy.
The report documents $13.2 billion in subsidies for nearly 958,000 recipients in fiscal year 2017. OpenTheBooks.com even provides an interactive map that allows taxpayers to search all recipients receiving $100,000 or more by ZIP code.
Millionaires reaped lavish subsidies but OpenTheBooks even found a billionaire recipient, Glen Taylor, the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who received $116,502 in subsidies. OpenTheBooks founder Adam Andrzejewski asks, “Does Mr. Taylor, No. 350 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, really need taxpayer funding for his egg and dairy farm in Iowa?”
The report includes other key findings:
- Residents in America’s five most populated cities received nearly $17 million over a three-year period, including Chicago ($7.7 million), Miami ($4.5 million), New York City ($2.8 million), Los Angeles ($1.6 million), and Philadelphia ($309,000).
- In fiscal year 2017, $4.8 million flowed to America’s most affluent ZIP Codes. Recipients in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood collected $139,080 and $94,090 over the last three years, respectively.
- In Washington, D.C., more than 350 recipients received $1.7 million in fiscal year 2017 farm subsidies. Van Boyette, a sugar industry lobbyist and lawyer, received nearly $32,000 through a controlled corporation last year.
Instead of protecting the U.S. food supply and helping local farmers, farm subsidies have become a form of welfare for the wealthy. This was never the intent of the farm bill. As Coburn said in 2011, “We should never demonize those who are successful. Nor should we pamper them.”
Reason magazine reports that in some states, such as North Dakota, subsidies are a leading crop.
All told, North Dakota receives more than $500 in subsidies for every state resident. North Dakota farms received an average of more than $15,000 per year in federal farm subsidies. Perhaps most galling is this: if subsidies were a crop, then USDA data show that North Dakota’s hardworking subsidy farmers would be the state’s fourth largest in terms of the dollar value of their production—trailing only soybeans, wheat, corn, and canola while easily edging out hay, beans, potatoes, sunflowers, barley, peas, lentils, flaxseed, oats, safflower, and sugarbeets.
The farm bill once again will yield an abundant crop of subsidies for farmers to harvest. Taxpayers should weigh in and demand reform to a program that has grown far beyond its original intent.