Taxpayers fund phoney “farmers”

I suppose it stands to some kind of reason that if the US Dept. of Agriculture is going to subsidize Brazillian cotton farmers to the tune of $147M, they can also give subsidies to millionaires and dead farmers too. After all, that would only be fair – right? (story here)

A dead man farming? That was the unsettling image that came to mind last November, when a Miami television station analyzed records of federal farm subsidies paid to South Florida residents. By cross-referencing payments against death notices, the reporters found that at least 234 people listed as deceased were still getting checks from Washington; some had been dead for as long as eight years. All told, about $9.5 million in farm subsidies went to folks who were pushing up plants, not harvesting them.

And then there are the rich phonies taking handouts. A government audit found that of the 1.8 million so-called farmers who received federal funds between 2003 and 2006, 2,702 of them had adjusted gross incomes of more than $2.5 million. The list included the co-owner of an unnamed sports team who hauled in $200,000 a year, as well as wealthy residents of the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong—people who are generally not eligible for U.S. government handouts. In all, these millionaires have enriched themselves to the tune of $49 million in taxpayer money.

Why in the world is Washington sending subsidy checks to millionaires, foreign residents, and corpses? The answer can be found in one of the most maddening federal programs around: farm subsidies. Every year, the government spends more than $13 billion on subsidies to farmers and agribusinesses—much of it in cash payments that keep coming regardless of economic and crop conditions. A worthy program conceived during the Great Depression to help struggling American farmers has become a slush fund for corporations—and it remains one of Washington’s biggest sacred cows.

“Farm subsidies are America’s largest corporate welfare program,” says the Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl. “They survive as a case study in special interest politics.”

How can this happen? Lobbyists grease the palms of corrupt politicians – that’s how.

The agricultural industry, with 1,200 registered lobbyists in Washington, spends about $133 million a year to make sure the money keeps flowing. Defenders of farm supports like to hold up the classic image of a hardworking American farmer in his overalls. But small farmers aren’t getting much more than the crust of this pie. Seventy-five percent of all farm subsidies go to just 10 percent of recipients, according to the watch-dog Environmental Working Group.

“So rather than this idea that we are helping family farms or helping the little guy weather the storm, we are subsidizing some of the wealthiest farms in the country,” says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. The top recipients of farm subsidies don’t have names like Jones or Smith but rather Riceland Foods, Inc., Harvest States Cooperative, and the South Dakota Building Authority.

Oh, and don’t forget the people who are paid not to farm. In 1996, Congress approved payments for farmers regardless of whether they planted, as long as they didn’t develop their land. The payments were supposed to be temporary help and then phased out. But—surprise, surprise!—they kept on coming. And now anyone who owns a patch of land that was declared a farm back then is entitled to an annual government check. Between 2000 and 2006, the government sent $1.3 billion to people who don’t farm, according to the Washington Post.

Remember this in November…


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