Farm Bill Conferees Should Cut Out Subsidies for Billionaires

Today, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives are meeting to negotiate the final text of the Farm Bill, H.R. 2. The Farm Bill is an $860 billion spending bill that funds U.S. agricultural activities. This will impact farmers across the nation and it is important for the conferees to consider much-needed reforms that will last for years.

The versions passed by each the House and the Senate contain very few efforts to reform or eliminate wasteful and unconstitutional subsidies. There are, however, opportunities for the conferees to deliver significant victories that will help small family farmers, and reduce corruption. Keeping a provision that was passed in the Senate, which ends the “actively engaged” loophole, is one of these opportunities.

The subsidies in the Farm Bill are meant to support family farms who fall victim to unpreventable natural disasters that harm their production and drastically alter the market. It is not meant to insulate farms from competition, nor is it meant to direct millions to those who don’t need it. Unfortunately, many farms that organize as partnerships or joint ventures, can designate an unlimited amount of “farm managers” who can receive subsidies, even if they haven’t spend a single day on an actual farm.

With this loophole, billionaires in urban areas of the country can qualify for farm subsidies. According to analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), over 18,000 people from the richest, most urban districts in America are receiving these subsidies. This allows wealthy urban businessmen to drastically increase the price of land in rural areas. This deters younger farmers from starting their own farms, and forces them off their land in some cases. We are selling out our nation’s farmers to billionaires and wealthy agri-businesses.

Sections 1704, 1705, and 1706 of the Senate passed bill contain common sense reforms to stop this waste and abuse. It institutes a modest means test, saying that no one who makes an adjusted gross income (AGI) of more than $700,000, or $1.4 million for married couples, shall be eligible for these subsidies. Unfortunately, the House version eliminates any means test. It is vitally important that the conference committee opt for the Senate approach to stand up for real farmers, and not special interests.

These sections also limit one designated “farm manager” per farm. They also eliminate the exceptions for cousins, nieces, and nephews. Given our rising national debt, and our nation’s fast approach to trillion dollar deficits, we cannot afford to funnel $125,000 in farm subsidies per person to individuals across the country who take no part in actual farming.

A bipartisan, bicameral coalition of legislators, led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), and Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), are circulating a Dear Colleague letter urging conferees to maintain these provisions. All members of Congress serious about tackling wasteful spending, and standing up for small rural farmers, who are the backbone of our nation, should sign on to this letter.