Farm Subsidies

The New Farm Bill Would Send Even More Welfare to the Super Rich (and Their Extended Families)

It would also legalize hemp, which is pretty cool.


U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eats the fruit of the ethanol plant while promoting the 2018 farm bill on his

The new federal farm bill contains a provision that will legalize industrial hemp and its byproducts at the federal level. This is good news and, in the event this bill makes its way to President Trump's desk during the lame duck session, we should commend Congress for taking the bold step of legalizing a plant that cannot get you high but can be turned into really cool necklaces.

That said, the rest of the 2018 farm bill sucks even more than most farm bills.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has, over the last several years, tracked the amount of money "city slickers and beach bums" receive from federal farm bills. In 2017, EWG reported that "19,832 people in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other big cities received $108 million in farm subsidies." That was up from 17,836 people and $63 million in the two years prior.

The 2018 farm bill is somehow worse. Here's EWG on a section of the bill that would pay even more welfare to rich land owners and their relatives:

Sec. 1603 of H.R. 2 would make a farmer's "cousins, nieces and nephews" eligible for certain subsidies—even if they don't live or work on the farm.

Under current law, a farmer's immediate family members—his spouse, grandparents, siblings, and adult children—are eligible to receive up $125,000 annually in subsidies for covered commodities like corn and peanuts. If a farmer is a member of a partnership, each member of the partnership (and their spouses) are also eligible for up to $125,000 in subsidies.

Technically, each member of the family or partnership has to be "actively engaged in farming," but this requirement can be met through a phone conversation about what to plant and when to sell the crop.

I'm no expert in welfare loopholes, but this one seems big enough for Kenny Chesney to drive his tractor through. And you know it's extra bad because Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa), who's never met an ethanol giveaway he didn't like, plans to vote against the bill due to the extended family provision. (He speculates that the bill will pass anyway.) According to his Republican colleagues, the handout would "encourage more people to be involved in farming." I, too, would be willing to pick up the phone and talk corn for six figures a year. But if all it takes is the occasional chat with Uncle Pete back in Kansas, why in god's name would I go through the trouble of doing more?

The R Street Institute, a free-market think tank, interprets the extended family provision as allowing for "an unlimited number of distant relatives and their spouses to each collect up to $125,000 a year in subsidies, so long as they fill out the necessary paperwork."

In a statement, R Street's Caroline Kitchens says that "[l]awmakers should reject this package, pass a one-year extension of the current farm bill and go back to the drawing board in the 116th Congress to craft a new bill that considers the interests of taxpayers alongside those of special interests."

This likely won't happen, but legal hemp will be a nice consolation prize.