13 June 2007

Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don't Even Farm

An agricultural subsidy is a governmental subsidy (a grant, tax break, or trade barrier) paid to farmers to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities and influence the cost and supply of such commodities on international markets.

But apparently some of America's rich and famous are padding their bank accounts with this money earmarked for working farmers. A watchdog group in Washington has unveiled an internet database that pinpoints where the government is giving away farm subsidies. You may be surprised to see who's getting money and where.

The governments money is going to fat cats who don't need it, when it could be used to help people struggling to find their next meal. Where's John Cougar Mellencamp when you need him?

Even though some dude named Don Matthews put his sprawling new residence in the heart of rice country, he is no farmer. He is a 67-year-old asphalt contractor who wanted to build a dream house for his wife of 40 years. Yet under a federal agriculture program approved by Congress, his 18-acre suburban lot receives about $1,300 in annual "direct payments," because years ago the land was used to grow rice.........................

Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all. Some of them collect hundreds of thousands of dollars without planting a seed.

NBA superstar Scottie Pippen gets $29,000 per year not to farm land he owns in Arkansas.

Late Night host David Letterman got $8,000, but gave it to charity.

David Rockefeller, the former chairman of Chase Manhattan and grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, received a personal record high of $134,556.

Ted Turner, the 25th wealthiest man in America, received $12,925. Even ousted Enron CEO and multi-millionaire Ken Lay received $6,019 for not farming his land.

But sheep farmer Leo Tammi gets just $500 a year."Who'da thunk that I'm in the same club as some of the wealthiest individuals in the country?" says Tammi.

The checks to the rich and famous and other landowners were intended 10 years ago as a first step toward eventually eliminating costly, decades-old farm subsidies. Instead, the payments have grown into an even larger subsidy that benefits millionaire landowners, foreign speculators and absentee landlords, as well as farmers.

The cash comes with so few restrictions that subdivision developers who buy farmland advertise that homeowners can collect farm subsidies on their new back yards. Holla.

Eligibility for farm subsidies is determined not by income or poverty standards but by the crop that is grown. Growers of corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice receive more than 90% of all farm subsidies, while growers of most of the 400 other domestic crops are completely shut out of farm subsidy programs. Further skewing these awards, the amounts of subsidies increase as a farmer plants more crops.

Thus, large farms and agribusinesses--which not only have the most acres of land, but also, because of their economies of scale, happen to be the nation's most profitable farms--receive the largest subsidies.

Meanwhile, family farmers with few acres receive little or nothing in subsidies. In other words, far from serving as a safety net for poor farmers, farm subsidies comprise America's largest corporate welfare program.

The coalition of watchdog groups that created the database using the government's own data, says it's no joke.

Our system of farm subsidies is broken and it's time for change.

Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake is trying to do away with the subsidies. "It's plumb embarrassing to try to justify. Sometimes shame and ridicule works," says Flake.

Nearly 2 million farmers don't get a penny, but one farmers' group says the subsidies are vital.

"We would rather see a few billionaires slip through the cracks and get payments versus seeing hardworking farmers not get the payments that they need," says Tara Smith from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Others believe the money would be better spent feeding starving Americans."We ought to put a little bit more money in the food stamp program so they can feedtheir kids for the whole month and maybe give them a vegetable once in a while," says David Beckham, president of Bread for the World.

What a mess. We'll let the Washington Post handle the rest.

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