Thursday, October 19, 2006

Harvesting Cash: A Bumper Crop for Farmers

As Congress prepares to debate a farm bill in 2007, the Washington Post is examining federal agriculture subsidies that grew to more than $25 billion in 2005, despite near-record farm revenue. The Post has run a series of a dozen articles about farm subsidies, starting last July with an article "Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don't Farm." They ran 4 articles in last Sunday's paper, and another on Monday this week. Here are several excerpts:

Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all. (See humorous post below about getting paid not to farm.)

The checks to 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.

What began in the 1930s as a limited safety net for working farmers has swollen into a far-flung infrastructure of entitlements that has cost $172 billion over the past decade. In 2005 alone, when pretax farm profits were at a near-record $72 billion, the federal government handed out more than $25 billion in aid, almost 50 percent more than the amount it pays to families receiving welfare.

Farmers often get paid twice by the government for the same disaster, once in subsidized insurance and then again in disaster assistance, a legal but controversial form of double-dipping, a Washington Post investigation found in another article. Together, the programs have cost taxpayers nearly $24 billion since 2000.

The government pays billions to help farmers buy cheap federal insurance, billions more to private insurance companies to help run the program and billions more to cover the riskiest claims. And on top of all that, it spends billions on disaster payments.


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