In Recession, Big Bucks for Big Farms
WASHINGTON, April 14, 2008. Over the next few weeks, some American couples will get $1,200 of their own money back from Washington. This is the maximum, one-time tax rebate Congress provided last February in their desperate attempt to revive our faltering economy that has since been declared in recession. By contrast, in a few months some other American couples, who operate some of the largest, most profitable farms in the country or merely own huge swaths of farmland, could be receiving 100 times that amount from the government--$120,000. That’s what could happen if the House version of the 2008 farm bill becomes law later this week. What’s more, $120,000 will just be the first of five guaranteed annual crop subsidy payments that will bring them $600,000 through 2012. The disparity owes much to the decades-old momentum behind farm subsidies which delivered $13.4 billion to farmers in 2006, according to the latest update of the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database website (site and analysis). Now including 2006 USDA data, the new website shows that from 1995 to 2006 or the past 12 years, taxpayers have sent over $177 billion in subsidies to farmers. Taxpayers will continue to send billions more, even as the farm economy posts record prices for many crops, and record incomes for most farmers. To put this crop subsidy largesse in perspective, at median home prices reported by the National Association of Realtors for the last quarter of 2007, $600,000 would buy eight or more homes in places like Youngstown, OH, Saginaw, MI and Decatur, IL. Under the House bill, a couple receiving the new maximum direct payment ($120,000 per couple per year or $600,000 for 5 years) will receive taxpayer dollars equivalent to five or more median-priced houses--one per year--in 26 metropolitan areas. Under the House bill, a couple receiving the new maximum direct payment ($120,000 per couple per year or $600,000 for 5 years) will receive taxpayer dollars equivalent to five or more median-priced houses--one per year--in 26 metropolitan areas. Without the increase in the subsidy limit from the House bill and merely an extension of the current maximum payment of $80,000 per couple per year over five years ($400,000 total), you could still buy 3 or more median-priced homes in 44 metro areas. “You can’t have a policy discussion in Washington without asking, how will it play in Peoria?” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group "That will depend on how people living there feel about big farmers all around them, raking in record incomes and still getting enough in subsidies to buy three median-priced Peoria homes with the existing direct payment limit over five years," Cook added. "If the House bill becomes law, big farmers would be able to buy 5 median-priced Peoria homes since it, gives couples an extra $40,000 each, every year for the next five. We can imagine how the American public may respond to the stunning unfairness of such a policy," said Cook. Other findings:
- Top 2006 Recipients – Riceland Foods, a rice cooperative, received $7.7 million in 2006.
- Corn is King – Over the past twelve years, taxpayers have spent $56 billion on corn subsidies paid to over 1.5 million recipients, making it the top crop for federal assistance.
- Concentration of Payments – 50% of all subsidies go to just 9 states while 22 of the nation’s 435 congressional districts collect over half of all subsidy payments.
- Senate and House Agriculture Committees –The 19 states currently represented on the Senate Agriculture Committee take home 59 percent of all subsidies paid over the last 12 years while the 45 congressional districts currently represented on the House Agriculture Committee accounted for 42 percent of the national subsidy total.
Full URL for 2006 farm subsidy data: http://farm.ewg.org/farm/
Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group’s farm subsidy database can be found at http://farm.ewg.org/farm.