Who benefits from farm subsidies? R Street long has been critical of our federal farm-support system, a massive boondoggle that disproportionately funnels taxpayer dollars to wealthy agribusinesses rather than family farms struggling to stay afloat. In April, we reported on an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis, which revealed that 50 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans received at least $6.3 million in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2014.
New analysis from EWG out this past week sheds additional light on who is getting farm support and why reform is so elusive. According to EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database, members of Congress have collected more than $9.5 million in farm subsidies since 1995. The list of those who have received farm subsidies includes 36 legislators, both Republican and Democrat. Two of the legislators—Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.—own farms that have received multiple millions of dollars in subsidies.
What’s especially troubling is that many of the congressmen raking in subsidies are members of the committee most directly involved in crafting legislation governing farm supports. EWG notes that overall, 10 members of the House Agriculture Committee received at least $3.5 million in subsidies, including current Vice Chairman Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
It’s worth noting that these members are no longer receiving subsidies in the form of direct payments, since the 2014 Farm Bill phased out the politically unpalatable direct payments program. In its place, Congress massively expanded federal support for crop insurance premiums. Our federal crop insurance program is now the primary source of government support for farmers.
Unlike the direct payments program, there are no transparency requirements for the crop insurance program’s outlays. That means we’ll never know how much these members receive in federal farm support. Unless transparency requirements are implemented, critical oversight, like EWG’s farm-subsidy database, will become impossible in the future.
There is much that needs to be done to fix our broken crop insurance program, but making the program more transparent is the essential first step. It’s unacceptable that members of Congress directly tasked with overseeing our crop insurance program are not required to disclose that they personally make money from the program. Unfortunately, given the prominence of subsidy-receiving farmers on the Agriculture Committee, advocates for reasonable reforms and fiscal responsibility face an uphill battle.
Check out EWG’s full list of the congressmen who received federal farm subsidies here.