Some federal bailout funds intended to help farmers weather former President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and the Covid-19 pandemic went instead to people living in some of the wealthiest communities in the U.S. – including one of Trump's Mar-a-Lago neighbors.
EWG found the recipients of two Trump-era Department of Agriculture disaster programs – the Market Facilitation Program, or MFP, and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP – included Anne Smith, whose $23 million mansion is just a block from Mar-a-Lago. She received $983.25 in MFP funding.
Home of MFP recipient in Palm Beach, Fla.
Photos: Redfin and GoogleMaps
EWG found $4.8 million of MFP funding and $771,764 of CFAP funding flowed to residents of the country’s 75 wealthiest ZIP codes.
For instance, James Opfer of Palo Alto, Calif., received more than $11,000 in MFP funds. His $3.9 million home, just a short drive from the Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club, backs up against the Foothills Nature Preserve.
Home of MFP recipient in Palo Alto, Calif.
Several other residents of Palo Alto also received MFP or CFAP payments.
So did residents of nearby Los Altos, by many accounts the wealthiest city in the country and home to tech billionaire bigwigs from Yahoo, Google and eBay. Donald Gardner, for example, took in $2,117.20 in MFP payments while living in a Los Altos home worth nearly $7 million.
Home of MFP recipient in Los Altos, Calif.
Trump-era disaster assistance payments intended for farmers went to 160 San Francisco residents, including several members of the Schoeningh family. Their address, according to the USDA, is the same as Centre Merchant Finance a trade finance company a stone’s throw from Twitter HQ.
Home of MFP recipient in San Francisco, Calif.
Other notable recipients of Trump-era disaster assistance include the billionaire governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice.
The MFP paid $23.2 billion for crop years 2018 and 2019 to compensate farmers for losses driven by tariffs China placed on agricultural imports from the U.S. in retaliation for Trump’s trade war.
The CFAP paid $30.8 billion for the two rounds of funding in 2020 and 2021.
In combination, the MFP and CFAP outlays caused total federal farm spending to soar, from $16.2 billion, in 2017, to $44.1 billion, in 2020, a record level. In 2020, federal spending made up nearly half of total farm net income, according to the USDA.
To pay for the two programs, Trump’s USDA tapped a little-known fund called the Commodity Credit Corporation. At the time, congressional Republicans supported the measure. But when Biden’s USDA tapped the fund to pay for measuring the climate benefits of various farmland practices, many of the same people objected.
An income cap on farm subsidies is intended to stop the wealthiest people from getting payments. But experts have found that the cap has not stopped them from receiving subsidies, leading to waste in the MFP and CFAP.
Another study found some farmers getting paid twice for the same crop. A Senate Agriculture Committee report discovered the payments were skewed to Southern farmers, who were less affected by the trade war.
Rather than waste taxpayer funds on needless bailout programs, Congress should increase funding for farmers offering to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are designed to help them better withstand the extreme weather caused by climate change.