In 2018, President Trump created a bailout program to offset farmers’ losses from his trade war with China, which cut off many growers’ access to their biggest market. Funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation, a government entity that can borrow up to $30 billion from the Treasury, the bailout has circumvented Congressional oversight.
In the first round of Trump’s bailout, $8.6 billion in these taxpayer-funded Market Facilitation Program, or MFP, payments went out the door. USDA began distributing a second round of payments in August 2019, and as of February 2020, $14.5 billion had already been paid out.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests to the Agriculture Department, EWG has analyzed these payments. We found that rather than supporting small, struggling farmers, MFP money has overwhelmingly gone to farmers who are already wealthy, as well as to people who live in cities and other places far from the fields. Thousands of recipients have received more than the maximum payment limit USDA first announced.
It’s all perfectly legal, thanks to loopholes in current farm subsidy law:
1) Many farms are set up as partnerships, and each partner can apply for the maximum aid available. All partners are supposed to be “actively engaged in farming,” but that requirement can be met through a phone call about what to plant. (See this report from the Government Accountability Office.)
2) Family members of farmers or landowners – including spouses, children, cousins, nieces and nephews – can apply for aid on behalf of a business.
3) Landowners who lease their land to tenant farmers – about 40 percent of U.S. farmland is rented – are eligible to apply for bailout money and other farm subsidies if they have a crop share lease with the tenant.
EWG will continue to analyze this expensive and inequitable boondoggle.