MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — President Donald Trump’s $16 billion bailout package for farmers hurt by the trade war with China unfairly benefits the South at the expense of the North and wealthy producers over smaller farms, Democratic senators concluded in a report released Nov. 12.
The report, one of the sharpest congressional critiques yet of the Market Facilitation Program, said five southern states receive the highest average payments per acre under the program — Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas. The analysis by Democratic committee staffers concluded that farmers in the Midwest and Northern Plains have been hurt the most.
It also asserted the U.S. Department of Agriculture has done nothing to target the assistance to vulnerable small, medium and beginning farmers. Instead, it said the agency doubled the payment limits, directing even more money to large, wealthy farming partnerships.
The USDA said in a statement that payments are based on trade damage, not regions or farm size.
“While we appreciate feedback on this program, the fact of the matter is that USDA has provided necessary funding to help farmers who have been impacted by unjustified retaliatory tariffs,’’ the statement said. “While criticism is easy to come up with, we welcome constructive feedback from any member of Congress with recommendations as to how the program could be better administered.’’
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the program also lacks any plan for rebuilding or replacing the markets that farmers have lost since they became caught up in the trade war last year. She leveled the charges in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that accompanied the 12-page report.
“This Administration’s chaotic trade agenda has irreparably harmed farmers, on top of the market instability and extreme weather challenges they already face,’’ Stabenow wrote in the letter signed by 14 other Democratic senators, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
The agency has set aside nearly $16 billion under MFP for the current crop year, up from the $12 billion inaugural edition for 2018 crops. The agency has paid farmers over $6.8 billion so far in first installments. According to the USDA, the states collecting the highest overall totals as of Nov. 12 — more than 60% of the total funds — are Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas and Kansas.
A separate analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation released later Nov. 12 backed up the USDA’s assertion the dollars have flowed mostly to the Midwest, even though the per-acre rates are higher in parts of the South. The Farm Bureau report said that’s because most of the acres planted in crops that are eligible for MFP payments are planted in the Midwest. The group did not address the Democratic senators’ claim that the formula is unfair.
An Associated Press analysis in July found that many large farming operations had no trouble circumventing the program’s payment caps. A separate AP analysis last month showed how a farming business owned by West
Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — a billionaire who’s the richest man in his state — collected the maximum of $125,000 then allowed under the program.
While the senators called on Perdue to “improve” the program before more payments go out, they proposed few specifics.
Until now, Congress had been relatively muted in its criticisms of MFP. Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, sent a less-sharply worded letter to Perdue earlier this month, pointing out several “inequities’’ and urging him to consider fixes.
Brooke Appleton, vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association, said the Democratic senators’ report, along with Peterson’s letter, “raised important issues regarding the impact on northern state corn farmers who have faced additional hurdles due to limited export opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.’’
The administration has not said if it will extend MFP for 2020.