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Are Billionaires Getting Crop Insurance Subsidies? We Still Don’t Know

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Last week (April 18) EWG published the names of the fifty billionaires on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans who received millions of dollars in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2014.

This list included banking tycoon David Rockefeller Sr., Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who owns the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers, stockbroker Charles Schwab and dozens of other billionaires.

It’s apparent that some folks missed the point. So let me thank our friends at Farm Policy Facts for allowing us the opportunity to drill down into this important issue a bit further. 

As we mentioned last week, traditional commodity subsidies are now being subjected to a modest means test that was tightened under the 2014 Farm Bill. However, in 2014, Congress failed to enact reforms to the crop insurance program that would prevent millionaires and billionaires from collecting unlimited subsidies through the federal crop insurance program – and they likely do.  The Senate twice voted for a means test, but the final Farm Bill allowed millionaires and billionaires to remain eligible for crop insurance subsidies.

Why is that important? Crop insurance is now the primary federal subsidy for farmers. As the Congressional Research Service reported, the total cost of the federal crop insurance program has increased substantially in the last decade. Between 2010 and 2014, its annual cost averaged $8.7 billion, with about $6.5 billion going toward premium subsidies.

Unlike traditional commodity subsidies, there are no payment limits, means testing or transparency requirements for recipients of crop insurance subsidies. This means that growers and farm businesses can receive unlimited taxpayer subsidies via the crop insurance program even if  they are billionaires – or they help fund groups such as Farm Policy Facts.

In fact, a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office found that four individuals, each with a net worth greater than $1.5 billion in 2013, received crop insurance subsidies.

While billionaires may not qualify to receive traditional commodity subsidies anymore, they are still eligible to receive unlimited crop insurance subsidies under the current rules. It is high time that Congress fixes this unfair system​. 

Click here or on the preview chart below to view the full list of 50 billionaires. 


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