Zombie farm bill is back…..

Republicans plot a farm-bill giveaway to billionaires and a blow to hungry families

Laura Clawson

Every now and then, a headline gets it exactly right. Like this one from CNN: “House farm bill seeks to restrict food stamp benefits while allowing subsidies for billionaires.” It’s not over-the-top hyped up but it draws a real clear contrast between how low-income families and billionaires are being treated by Congress. House Republicans continue their push to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and institute harsher work requirements (even though the program already has work requirements for people who aren’t elderly, disabled, or parents). But billionaires? Republicans want to repeal rules blocking absentee billionaires from receiving piles of farm subsidy cash.

The current draft of the farm bill would exempt pass-through businesses—remember that particular form of rich person’s tax shelter from last winter’s tax scam fight?—from counting against means testing requirements to receive farm subsidies.

“It’a basically cronyism,” said Daren Bakst, a Senior Research Fellow in agriculture policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“Someone in Beverly Hills might be getting a check because somehow they’re ‘farming’ in Iowa,” Bakst added.

Republicans also plan to allow first cousins, nieces, and nephews of these “farmers” to qualify for farm subsidies if they do any backbreaking farm work like participating in a conference call every now and then.

Some of the Republican members of Congress out there touting the importance of stricter work requirements on SNAP are themselves raking in farm subsidies:

Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Louisiana, who has received $444,640 in federal farm subsidies, lauded the SNAP work requirements, saying that they will “help people break out of the cycle of poverty and climb the economic ladder.”

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, who has received $573,568 in federal farm subsidies, said the bill “establishes real work requirements for our nutrition programs,” and is a “big step in the right direction.”

If you already have a lot, Republicans want you to have more. If you’re struggling, they want to add to your burdens.

The farm bill already failed once in the House, so probably nobody knows where this is headed—but even if these provisions don’t become law, it’s vital to remember that Republicans wanted them.

Here is the background for the subsidies:

  1. Helps the big get bigger and rich get richer

Over the last three decades, American agriculture has become increasingly consolidated. As of 2015, a majority of our food (51 percent) came from farms with over $1 million in annual sales – up 20 percent since 1991. Federal policy has historically contributed to this consolidation – as well as to the homogeneity and inequity caused by consolidation – by directing disproportionate resources toward the largest and wealthiest agribusiness operations. Sadly, the House Agriculture Committee’s draft farm bill chooses to expand access to unlimited subsidies for mega-farms instead of acting as a champion for America’s small-medium scale, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

The bill includes a litany of bonuses for mega-farms, but perhaps the most egregious is the attempt to throw out a 30-year old rule preventing corporations from receiving unlimited commodity payments. Lucrative loopholes in the bill for the largest, wealthiest agribusiness operations would allow:

  • Most corporate farms to receive multiple payments, rather than being limited to a single payment under a single payment cap, which is currently the case.
  • Mega-farms to more easily reorganize as “family farms,” thereby increasing farm subsidy payments to a single farm by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
  • Unlimited subsidies and no accountability to taxpayers by removing payment limitations from marketing loan gains and loan deficiency payments.
  • An exemption for partnerships, joint ventures, LLCs, and Subchapter S corporations from the adjusted gross income means-testing provision that makes any person or legal entity with an average adjusted gross income exceeding $900,000 (effectively $1.8 million for many couples) ineligible for commodity or conservation payments.