President Donald Trump has been showering farmers with cash to paper over their losses from his trade wars and the coronavirus pandemic, but experts worry the agriculture industry may grow too dependent on the subsidies.
Agriculture subsidies have soared to historic levels under Trump, but farm policy experts and watchdog groups say the payouts offer little value to taxpayers and come with almost no congressional oversight, reported Politico.
“It’s a big problem for agriculture because it’s not sustainable,” said Anne Schechinger, senior economics analyst at the nonprofit watchdog Environmental Working Group. “It’s really difficult once you’re giving farmers this much money to then take away those [payments].”
Direct farm aid is at an all-time high under Trump, up from $11.5 billion in 2017 to more than $32 billion this year, soaking up about two-thirds of the Department of Housing and Urban Development cost and more than the Agriculture Department’s $24 billion discretionary budget, according to a Politico analysis.
“It’s just, ‘Here’s your check,’" said Neil Hamilton, emeritus professor and former director of Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center. "There’s an incredible amount of trust that [farmers] will use it wisely. But at the end of the day, it’s your and my tax money. It’s not a crazy idea to ask what the public’s getting from this, or could the public expect more for it.”
The USDA started pumping out checks in mid-2018 to cover losses from Trump's tariff war with China, but the bailout has now gone past $23 billion over three years without ever being appropriated by Congress.
“The administration picked these trade fights promising agriculture that this would lead to some better world at some point,” Hamilton said. “Rather than suffering any consequence for the ill-conceived strategy, they just said, ‘Hey, let’s tap the bank. We’ll buy our way out of this.’”
Watchdogs suspect the president may be rewarding farmers and ranchers, who he considers some of his most loyal supporters, for personal political reasons.
“There’s definitely a connection between his supporters and the people who are getting the money from these huge payments,” Schechinger said. “I’m not going to say that he created [the trade bailout] to give money to his voters, because we can’t really prove that. But we do know that his base was largely in rural areas, and that is where this money has gone.”