Ag officials agree subsidies need changeRep. Collin Peterson says he isn’t surprised by President-elect Barack Obama’s criticisms following a new report about the abuse of agriculture subsidies.
GRAND FORKS (AP) — Rep. Collin Peterson says he isn’t surprised by President-elect Barack Obama’s criticisms following a new report about the abuse of agriculture subsidies.
The report from the Government Accountability Office released Monday found there were 2,702 millionaire recipients of farm payments from 2003 to 2006. Obama has said if the report is true, it’s a perfect example of government waste.
He’s said in speeches and position papers that subsidy programs should provide more benefits to small farmers and less to large ones, especially large corporate farms.
Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, says agriculture subsidies are always a target in the debate over government waste, and he said he doesn’t see Obama’s comments as a threat to the overall farm safety net.
“We’re always a target, and it sounds good” to criticize subsidies, Peterson said. “But Obama can’t be any worse than Bush was on this, and we survived that.”
According to the report, the payments to the millionaire farmers totaled more than $49 million, but Peterson said that pales in comparison to the money the federal government is spending to bail out the financial industry.
Still, Peterson said the subsidies issue should be addressed. “We will be on top of this to figure out how to fix it,” he said.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson says he’s happy the report uncovered that the subsidies are sometimes going to people who don’t need them.
“I’ve long been a strong supporter of income limits on payments, and I believe there’s been for a long time a too-relaxed approach” to them, Johnson said.
The 2008 farm bill included lowering the adjusted gross income limit for farmers receiving subsidies to $750,000, which Johnson said “is a move in the right direction.”
“I would like to see it lower. That’s still a very high number,” he said.
The new farm bill also includes a tracking process for subsidy payments, requiring that every payment to a farmer be attached to that individual’s Social Security number. Before the mandated direct attribution of payments, the money could get caught up in a complicated web of interrelationships, Johnson said.
“Now you’re dealing with people who are actively engaged in agriculture. That will more clearly focus the safety net on folks who need it, the smaller and average-sized operators, and that’s where it should be,” Johnson said.
The GAO recommended that the U.S. Department of Agriculture work with the IRS to develop a system for verifying income eligibility for recipients of farm payments. USDA officials have said they agree with the recommendation.