Washington, D.C., June 26, 2001. Congress is expected to approve an additional $5.5 billion in emergency farm aid today, the fourth straight year it has been forced to supplement a 1996 law that was intended to end farm supports. But a new analysis shows that half of subsidy bail out money will go to the largest farm operations in just 20 congressional districts, while hundreds of thousands of farmers in over 300 congressional districts will receive little or no assistance.
"We don't question the need for additional aid," said Anne Keys, EWG's vice president for policy and former deputy under secretary of agriculture. "The 1996 'Freedom to Farm' law left many farmers' economic safety net in tatters and has made emergency bail outs an annual event," she said. "But our analysis shows that too many farmers, too many rural areas, and too many pressing conservation needs will be ignored once again," Keys added.
EWG analyzed millions of computer records of farm subsidy payments obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), along with agriculture census data, to see how the emergency aid would be apportioned among congressional districts.
The study found:
- Just 20 congressional districts would get 52 percent of the $4.6 billion in emergency "Freedom to Farm" payments provided under the bill. Those districts account for only 22 percent of the value of agricultural production. (For comparison, 48 congressional districts account for half the value of U.S. agricultural production.) EWG analysts were unable to determine the geographic distribution of an additional $900 million provided by the bill.
- Within the 20 districts that collect most of the payments, just 10 percent of recipients will take in more than half of the emergency aid.
- The vast majority of the House, some 344 congressional districts in all , would gain if emergency aid were allocated based on the value of agricultural production, not just production histories of crops that have been subsidized for decades.
- In 91 of those 344 districts, the increase would exceed $10 million, and in another 79 districts the increase would be between $5 million and $10 million.
- 86 congressional districts would receive a smaller amount of emergency aid pegged to the value of crops and livestock sold. Allocations in 16 of those districts, however, would be reduced by less than $1 million.
- A total of 37 states would see an increase in agricultural assistance if it were allocated by value of production. 13 states would receive less of an increase, but they would still receive very substantial aid.
"Tens of thousands of farmers who are equally deserving of aid will not get help simply because they haven't gotten help before, and that's unfair" said Susanne Fleek, EWG's director of government relations. "But those disenfranchised farmers and regions will not get a fair share of funds for their economic and environmental needs until their representatives in Congress demand it."
EWG is a nonprofit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C., with an office in Oakland, California.