According to data compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 11 House members (or their spouses) and four senators (or their spouses) received $237,921 in taxpayer-funded farm subsidy payments in 2012.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack received payments totaling $82,874 from 1995 through 2012 for his Iowa farm; The family of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) received $40,613 from 1995-2012; and Senate agriculture committee member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has received $327,246 in farm subsidies since 1995.
Former President Jimmy Carter’s family farm, Carter’s Farms Inc., has received $272,288 in farm subsidy payments between 1995 and 2012.
EWG’s farm subsidy database tracks $256 billion in farm income support through commodity, crop insurance, and disaster programs; and $39 billion in conservation support paid to farmers and landowners from 1995 through 2012.
However, EWG says it is prohibited by federal law from reporting crop insurance subsidies, which now comprise two-thirds of the farm safety net.
"EWG and the taxpayers footing the bill cannot know which farmers, including which members of Congress, receive subsidies to buy crop insurance," said Craig Cox, EWG’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. "We do know that in 2011, 26 policyholders received more than $1 million apiece in crop insurance premium support in 2011, and that more than 10,000 policyholders received more than $100,000 each.”
Cox said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has refused to provide EWG with that same information for 2012.
Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have filed an amendment to the Senate farm bill that would allow the USDA to disclose which farmers receive crop insurance subsidies.
While traditional farm and conservation programs limit the amount of money an individual or business can receive from the government, EWG notes there are no such limits on crop insurance subsidies.
The data on taxpayer money paid to farmers comes at the beginning of a summer in which the House is considering a $940 billion farm bill and the Senate is considering a $963 billion farm bill of its own.
(Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation, commonly called the "Farm Bill" that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and expired in 2012. A partial extension was passed on January 1 to extend several expired Farm Bill programs.)
“Crop insurance costs have reached an all-time high and overwhelmingly flow to the largest and most successful farm businesses,” said Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group’s vice president for government affairs. “While the top 1 percent of recipients haul in more than $220,000 in support per year, the bottom 80 percent get only about $5,000. Some very large farm businesses receive more than $1 million in insurance subsidies,” Faber said.
EWG says its 2013 farm subsidy database shows that “free-spending federal crop insurance subsidies are badly in need of reform.”
Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Tom Petri (R-Wis.) have introduced bipartisan legislation to overhaul federal crop insurance subsidy policy.
Their proposal would cap total subsidies at $40,000 annually per person, eliminate subsidies for those with incomes exceeding $250,000, and require reporting by all parties receiving federally subsidized crop insurance.
“The current crop insurance system is extremely wasteful and in need of major reform," Kind said, adding that his bill will save taxpayers $11 billion over 10 years while still providing a strong safety net for family farmers.”
In an op-ed that appeared in the newspaper The Hill, Tad DeHaven and Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute detailed the income disparity that exists between farmers and the average U.S. household.
“In 2011, real farm incomes were the third highest in the last 50 years. And Census data for 2010 show that average farm household income was $84,400, or 25 percent higher than the $67,530 average of all U.S. households. Farmers simply don’t need tens of billions of dollars a year in taxpayer handouts,” they wrote.
Edwards, who is director of tax policy at the Cato Institute, told a gathering on Capitol Hill last week that farm subsidies also “distort the economy” by encouraging over-production of crops, overuse of marginal farmland, land price inflation, less efficient planting decisions, excessive borrowing by farmers, and insufficient attention to cost control.
Unlike people in other businesses, farmers have no incentive to keep their costs down or to innovate – “because the government will always bail you out when you get into trouble,” Edwards said.
With both versions of the farm bill costing just under $1 trillion – at a time of mounting deficits and tight budgets -- critics have suggested numerous reforms, including an overhaul of all farm subsidies.
Andrew Moyland, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, also spoke at the Cato event. He mentioned various ways that crop insurance could be reformed.
First, farmers should be means-tested, with the wealthiest getting reduced subsidies or none at all. “That’s something that, structurally, makes all the sense in the world to make sure that we’re not subsidizing large, profitable agro-businesses,” he said.
Moyland also advocates limiting the amount of support farmers can receive as well as full transparency on who’s getting how much from taxpayers.
EWG’s Faber, who also attended the Cato event, said reforming federal crop insurance programs would aid farmers who need help – “not incredibly successful businesses who, frankly, don’t need as much support.”
Here’s EWG’s list of U.S. representatives and senators whose families have benefited from taxpayer-funded farm subsidies:
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Rep. Robert Aderholt's (R-Ala.) wife, Caroline Aderholt, is a 6.3 percent owner of McDonald Farms according to 2008 ownership records. McDonald Farms received $66,891 in direct payment farm subsidies in 2012. She also personally received a $345 direct payment in 2012. EWG’s estimate of 2012 farm subsidies to Caroline Aderholt, using the percentage share information received from USDA, comes to $4,559. Caroline Aderholt’s total estimated amount of subsidies – directly and through McDonald Farms – is $207,426 from 1995-2012.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R- S.D.) received $1,400 in direct payments in 2012. Through 2008, USDA listed Rep. Noem as a 16.9% partner in Racota Valley Ranch. The estimated amount of subsidies attributed to Rep. Noem from 1995-2012 is $503,751.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calf.) and his wife Jill LaMalfa are each 16.67% partners (combined share totals 33.33%) of DSL Lamalfa Family Partnership, which received $188,570 in direct payments for 2012. Direct payments were the only payments received in 2012. The 2012 subsidy amount EWG estimates to Rep LaMalfa and his wife is $62,857. The estimated amount of subsidies from 1995-2012 from DSL LaMalfa Family Partnership total $1,710,385.
Rep. Frank Lucas' (R-Okla.) wife Lynda Lucas received $14,584 in disaster payments in 2012. Her total subsidy payments since 1999 are $40,613.
In 2008, Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) and his wife Terra Valadao had a combined ownership share of 33.4% of Triple V Dairy. Triple V Dairy received $22,453 in payments in 2012 for direct payments and MILC. The most recent ownership information from 2011, does not list Terra but also does not list the ownership percentages. Assuming the wife's ownership percentage was added to David's – the EWG estimate of the amount of subsidies to Rep Valadao from Triple V Dairy in 2012 is $7,484. Valadao Dairy received $82,373 in payments in 2012 for direct payments and MILC. The ownership information EWG received for Valadao Dairy is from 2011 and ownership percentage information is not available. However, there are 4 owners of Valadao Dairy and assuming equal shares, the EWG estimate of the benefit to David Valadao is $20,593. The total EWG estimate of subsidy benefits in 2012 to Rep. Valadao is $28,077. The estimated subsidy amount attributed to Rep. Valadao from Triple V Dairy and Valadao Dairy from 2005-2012 is $185,724
Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) and his wife Lynn Fincher are each 50 percent partners in Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms. They received a $70,574 direct payment farm subsidy in 2012. The Finchers have received $3,483,824 in farm subsidies since 1999.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) is listed in the Farm Subsidy Database, but no subsidies were directly paid to her. A trust named Lowell and Viky Hartzler Family Revocable Trust is listed as a 98 percent owner of Hartzler Farms, which received $697 in direct payment/ACRE and $686 for the Conservation Reserve Program for a total of $1,383 in 2012. Hartlzer Farms has received $822,151 in farm subsidies since 1995. The Hartzler’s estimated subsidies from 1995-2012 are $516,000.
Rep. John Kline's (R-Minn.) wife, Vicky Sheldon Kline, is listed as a 20 percent owner of Sheldon Family Farms LP, which received a $3,025 conservation reserve program payment in 2012. EWG’s estimate of the conservation reserve program payments Ms. Kline received, based on the percentage share information supplied to USDA, is $605 for 2012. The estimated amount of subsidies received by Rep. Kline’s wife from 2000-2012 is $6,548.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) received a 2012 direct payment of $339. Rep Nuegebauer has received $670 since 2011. Rep. Neugebauer also had interests in two different farming businesses from 1998-2003. His estimated subsidies using the percentage share from USDA for those two businesses are $3,651, which brings his total subsidies to $4,321.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) received a 2012 direct payment of $6,654. Rep Stutzman has received $196,268 in farm subsidies since 1997.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is a one-third owner of Thornberry Brothers, which received a $5,103 direct payment and $4,078 in disaster aid payments in 2012. EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Thornberry received, based on the percentage share information provided to USDA, is $3,060 in 2012. His estimated total subsidies from 1995-2012 is $29,774
Sen. Michael Bennet's (D-Colo.) wife, Susan Daggett, is listed in his 2010 financial disclosure forms as 5.5 percent owner of Daggett Farms LP and LMD Farms LP. Daggett Farms LP received $17,312 in direct payments in 2012 while LMD Farms LP received $21,007 in direct payments in 2012. EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Daggett received, based on the percentage share information provided from financial disclosure forms, was $2,107 in 2012. The total subsidy amount for Ms. Daggett is $22,789 from 1995-2012.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) received $8,207 in direct payments and $1,728 in conservation reserve payments for a total of $9,935 in 2012. Senator Grassley has received $327,246 in farm subsidies since 1995.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) personally received $2,982 in direct payments and $6,113 in conservation reserve program payments in 2012. Testers’ wife, Sharla, is listed as a 50 percent owner of T-Bone Farms – Tester is listed as owning the other 50 percent. T-Bone farms received $12,186 in direct payments in 2012. The Tester’s total subsidies for 2012 were $21,281. Their total from 1995-2012 is $505,536
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidies and conservation payments Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and his wife. Elaine Hatch, received is based on the share information provided in financial disclosure forms regarding Ms. Hatch’s share of Edries N Hansen Properties LLC which received $2,530 in direct payments and $50,000 in conservation reserve program payments in 2012 is $10,506. The estimated amount of subsidies to Ms. Hatch from 1995-2012 is $49,722.