MINNEAPOLIS, US: When President Donald Trump’s administration announced a $12 billion aid package for farmers struggling under the financial strain of his trade dispute with China, the payments were capped. But many large farming operations had no trouble finding legal ways around them, records provided to The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act show.
The government paid nearly $2.8 million to a Missouri soybean operation registered as three entities at the same address. More than $900,000 went to five other farm businesses, in Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and two in Texas. Three other farming operations collected more than $800,000, and 16 others collected over $700,000.
Recipients defended the payouts, saying they didn’t cover their losses from the trade war and they were legally entitled to them. Department of Agriculture rules let farms file claims for multiple family members or other partners who meet the department’s definition of being “actively engaged in farming.”
But US Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has long fought for subsidy limits, and other critics say it’s the latest example of how loopholes let large farms collect far more than the supposed caps.
Grassley said in a statement to AP that some of the nation’s largest farms are receiving huge subsidies “through underhanded legal tricks. They’re getting richer off the backs of taxpayers while young and beginning farmers are priced out of the profession. This needs to end. The Department of Agriculture needs to re-evaluate its rules for awarding federal funds and conduct more thorough oversight of where it’s funneling taxpayer dollars.”
USDA officials said they believe its rules are being followed and that procedures are in place to audit recipients.
About 83 percent of the aid under the Market Facilitation Program has gone to soybean farmers because they’ve suffered most under China’s retaliatory tariffs. The program sets a $125,000 cap in each of three categories of commodities: one for soybeans and other row crops, one for pork and dairy, and one for cherries and almonds. But each qualified family member or business partner gets their own $125,000 cap for each category. Farmers who produce both soybeans and hogs, for example, would have separate caps for each and could thus collect $250,000.
USDA data show the biggest beneficiary has been DeLine Farms Partnership and two similarly named partnerships registered at the same address in Charleston, Missouri, that collected nearly $2.8 million.
The DeLines’ attorney, Robert Serio, said the partnerships qualified legally.