House Bill Would Expand Farm Subsidy Loopholes for City Slickers

The House Agriculture Committee’s proposed farm bill would impose new work requirements on recipients of SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps, which help alleviate hunger for more than 40 million Americans.

But the bill does not tighten work requirements for farm subsidy recipients. Instead, it would make it easier for some people who do not live or work on farms to collect subsidies, including farmers’ cousins, nieces and nephews.

A new analysis of federal data by the Environmental Working Group finds that thousands of people living in the nation’s 50 largest cities received farm subsidies in 2015 and 2016. The analysis of subsidy recipients in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other big cities found 17,836 people who received $63 million in farm subsidies in 2015 and 2016.

Under current law, urban residents can receive farm subsidies even if they do not live or work on a farm. A last-minute deal dropped the strict requirements in the 2014 Farm Bill that recipients be actively engaged in farming, and completely exempted so-called family farms.

Under current law, each member of a family farm – which make up 87 percent of farms – can collect up to $125,000 per year in subsidies. Section 1603 of the Agriculture Committee’s farm bill would expand the definition of family members to include cousins, nieces and nephews.

The committee’s proposal would also expand loopholes for non-family farms. Non-family farms could continue to designate up to three so-called farm managers to be eligible for subsidies – even if those managers don’t work on the farm or provide little or no management. So long as the managers have a financial stake in the farm, they can collect subsidies – and so can their spouses. The House bill does not require these managers to perform meaningful work on the farm.

What’s more, the committee’s proposal restores a loophole that once allowed corporations to receive subsidies. Under current law, a corporation is treated as a single person for the purposes of determining eligibility for subsidies. But Section 1603 of the bill released last week would allow each member of certain “pass-through entities” to receive subsidies.

This loophole would allow the Department of Agriculture to treat corporations like farm partnerships. Under current law, each member of a farm partnership is treated as a separate person when calculating subsidy payments, so the partnership’s potential payment limit is equal to the number of qualifying members.

Currently, these partnerships make up only 6 percent of farms, but they receive 17 percent of all farm payments. Some partnerships have received more than $1 million in subsidies. Studies show that the amount of actual work performed on the farm falls as the number of partners increases.

Earlier this year, President Trump proposed denying farm subsidies to millionaires and limiting subsidies to one person per farm. But rather than tightening restrictions on farm subsidies, the bill that will be debated by the House Agriculture Committee this week will create new loopholes, further fueling the concentration of subsidies among the largest and most successful farms.

Location Number of Recipients
Albuquerque, N.M. 311
Arlington, Texas 261
Atlanta, Ga. 217
Austin, Texas 809
Baltimore, Md. 24
Boston, Mass. 10
Charlotte, N.C. 111
Chicago, Ill. 361
Colorado Springs, Colo. 430
Columbus, Ohio 229
Dallas, Texas 803
Denver, Colo. 775
Detroit, Mich. 23
El Paso, Texas 89
Fort Worth, Texas 464
Fresno, Calif. 111
Houston, Texas 1028
Indianapolis, Ind. 552
Jacksonville, Fla. 105
Kansas City, Kan. 866
Las Vegas, Nev. 200
Long Beach, Calif. 66
Los Angeles, Calif. 114
Louisville, Ky. 274
Memphis, Tenn. 559
Mesa, Ariz. 235
Miami, Fla. 64
Milwaukee, Wis. 75
Minneapolis, Minn. 534
Nashville, Tenn. 256
New Orleans, La. 87
New York, N.Y. 89
Oakland, Calif. 51
Oklahoma City, Okla. 897
Omaha, Neb. 1344
Philadelphia, Pa. 20
Phoenix, Ariz. 269
Portland, Ore. 325
Raleigh, N.C. 168
Sacramento, Calif. 103
San Antonio, Texas 653
San Diego, Calif. 198
San Francisco, Calif. 89
San Jose, Calif. 105
Seattle, Wash. 369
Tucson, Ariz. 340
Tulsa, Okla. 444
Virginia Beach, Va. 123
Washington, D.C. 85
Wichita, Kan. 2121
Areas of Focus
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