Previously at EWG.
Just in time for Christmas, the Trump administration has finalized a rule to kick 700,000 hungry Americans off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly called food stamps – the first phase of a broader plan to deny nutrition support to 3 million low-income people.
“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said when he announced tighter work requirements for SNAP benefits that will disqualify hundreds of thousands of recipients. In a Senate hearing earlier this year, Perdue said food stamps should not be “a way of life.”
But for some large, wealthy agribusinesses, big USDA checks are in fact both indefinite and a way of life.
To shore up support in farm country for his self-inflicted trade war, which has cut many growers off from lucrative export markets, President Trump has directed billions of dollars in bailout payments to thousands of agribusinesses through the Market Facilitation Program, or MFP.
The $18.6 billion in MFP payments handed out last year and this year (through November) are on top of the billions of dollars in federal subsidies that rich farmers, non-farming landowners and city slickers already get annually.
More than 22,000 businesses that received MFP payments in the past two years also received traditional USDA subsidies or so-called disaster payments for 32 years straight – often for large amounts.
- Michael Brown & Sons of Lake Providence, La., has received more than $8.5 million in government subsidies since 1995, including almost $518,000 in bailout payments this year.
- Frische Farms of Dumas, Texas, has received more than $11.4 million in USDA subsidies since 1995, including almost $960,000 in bailout payments in 2018 and 2019.
- Molitor Bros. Farm of Cannon Falls, Minn., has received almost $10.8 million in USDA subsidies since 1995, including almost $1.4 million in bailout payments in 2018 and 2019.
A food stamp recipient must jump through strict income hoops known as means tests just to collect a meager average $131 per month in assistance. But the payment limitations for recipients of the trade bailout are laughably lax. From August through October of this year, three bailout beneficiaries received more than $1 million each; 45 received over $500,000 each; and 514 received more than $250,000 each. The top 1 percent of recipients received an average payment of $177,010.
These year-after-year farm subsidy recipients aren’t ineligible for payments unless their adjusted gross income tops $900,000 a year – but the rule doesn’t apply if three-fourths or more of their income comes from farming. By cruel contrast, a family of three can’t get food stamps if their combined gross income is more than $27,700.
Billions of dollars in MFP payments have flowed into the bank accounts of “city slickers” who live in the nation’s largest cities, country club community residents and megafarms owned by America’s richest farmers – not to the small struggling family farmers and minority farmers who could actually use the money. Even Washington, D.C., lobbyists and advisors to the president’s 2016 campaign have cashed MFP checks.
One of those advisors is Kip Tom, whom Trump appointed last year as the Rome-based ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture. Toms Farms Partners, one of his Indiana-based businesses, has received a total of more than $5.7 million in farm subsidies over the past 16 consecutive years, including more than $1 million in MFP payments. It would take 645 years for one SNAP recipient’s benefits to equal what Ambassador Tom’s farm got in bailout payments.
This holiday season, more vulnerable Americans will go hungry while the Trump administration continues to stuff fat government checks into wealthy farmers’ stockings. As Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) told the Huffington Post: “The USDA is the Grinch that stole Christmas. Shame on them.”