WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The federal government will begin paying out a second round of aid for farmers by the end of August, but some say the money has been unfairly monopolized by big agribusinesses. Lawmakers want to do more to make sure cash is going to small farms.
The $14.5 billion aid package is meant to help farmers caught in the middle of a trade war with China and dealing with extreme weather and falling crop prices. Some say big farms are massive bailout checks while small farms are barely able to scrape by.
“With all this money going out, it’s not being tailored and focused where it needs to be,” said Rob Larew, a spokesman for the National Farmers Union. “This is really a widespread problem. … It’s a huge disadvantage to, again, those average family farmers out there who are struggling.”
The problem is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rules allow multiple family members or partners working for the same farm to apply for relief. Federal data obtained by the Associated Press shows some of the country’s biggest farms are harvesting up to $2.8 million even though individual payments are capped at $125,000 per crop.
In a statement, the Department of Agriculture says it has no reason to believe the system is being abused. It said payments “have all been made in accordance with published regulations and existing procedures” and that any overpayments are automatically flagged.
But senators aren’t satisfied. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, whose state of Iowa saw devastating floods this spring, said the policy is an underhanded legal trick that hurts beginner farmers. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, says the legal loophole should be closed to make sure that money goes to farmers and not Wall Street.
“Wall Street investors and Wall Street bankers who own some of these farms but never farm, never set foot on it,” Brown said.