As Progressive members of Congress defend against Corporate attacks on government social safety nets that millions of Americans rely upon, it's about time we highlighted programs that actually should be cut or seriously redesigned.
Farm subsidies fit the bill perfectly, crop insurance especially.
Unlimited crop insurance subsidies now cost the taxpayer $9 billion a year and overwhelmingly flow to the largest and most successful farm businesses. Unlike other farm subsidies, crop insurance subsidies are not subject to means testing or payment limits and farmers are not required to adopt basic environmental protections in exchange for premium support from the taxpayer. While some farms annually collect more than $1 million in crop insurance premium support, the bottom 80% of policyholders annually collect about $5,000.Millions of those dollars go to some of the wealthiest people in the country.
Between 1995 and 2012, these 50 people—who have have a collective net worth of $316 billion—received $11.3 million in farm subsidy payments. They've probably have even received more in crop insurance payments, but we don't know because the law doesn't allow prohibits the disclosure of the identities of crop insurance policyholders.While farm subsidies are meant to help poor farmers, in practice it has had the opposite effect.
Many counties where federal crop insurance subsidies rose between 2008 and 2012 also had an increase in poverty over that period, a finding that undermines the oft-repeated arguments that farm subsidies help reduce rural poverty, an Environmental Working Group analysis shows.In addition to failing in its initiative to help struggling farmers domestically, farm subsidies contribute to global food insecurity and harm the environment through overproduction of crops.
As Congress looks to finally wrap up the lengthy legislative battle over the farm bill in January, a central point of bipartisan consensus on agriculture policy is ending a misguided subsidy program. But if it replaces the program with beefed up crop insurance subsidies and price supports, it won’t reduce the risks taxpayers bear and could keep funneling money into undeserving pockets.
Even though farm subsidies enjoy wide bipartisan support, cutting them should also be a stance that has proponents on both sides of the aisle. One need only look at the calls for reforming farm subsidies coming from the Conservatives' own think tanks.
And even though Congress continues to favor generous farm subsidies, polls show that most Americans oppose them.
As many people know, for quite awhile now farm subsidies and food stamps have been lumped together in the same huge budget bills. This has led to unnecessary hardship for Americans who seriously need the SNAP assistance but watched their well-being sacrificed to political manoeuvring. As the costly farm subsidies become more and more indefensible, it's time we once again look at the rationale for this approach, and for the farm subsidies as well.
In all likelihood, the costs of farm subsidies on the overall health of our economy are underestimated, especially when we consider how many other programs that spending could go towards. We have to start looking at farm subsidies more critically.
The Republican Party is increasingly becoming a one-issue party: cut spending. The few exceptions seem to be military spending, and farm subsidies. As a result, the Democratic Party is often left to defend against attacks against government spending in practically all its forms, but most often, the social safety nets that the most needy Americans rely upon. Because of this, there are few areas, other than military spending, that Democrats can actually offer up in budget negotiations where they are willing to cut spending. This hurts the overall image of the party as well, as it is increasingly attacked as defending government spending, no matter how wasteful. Farm subsidies are actually a program that actually fits that narrative, but it's also currently a Republican as well as Democrat favorite. If Democrats were to get behind cutting and/or seriously reforming farm subsidies, so it actually helps the small American farmer, the Democratic Party would suddenly have an issue where it could simultaneously demonstrate integrity, on addressing a wasteful spending program, and attack Republican hypocrisy, for refusing to address the same.
It's true that we should be helping out our poor working farmers, just as much as the Democratic Party is dedicated to helping our poorest Americans in general. However, farm subsidies, as we currently dispense them, likely do more harm than good. However useful they sound in theory, and however popular they are with the governing elite, we also can't ignore what the preponderance of evidence says about farm subsidies. At the end of the day, sound policy must be based on evidence and substance, not politics and opinion.
To quote my favorite physicist Richard Feynman, "reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
Farm subsidies amount to little more than a corporate hand out, artificially distort agricultural prices, and do little to help actual farming families, especially when the government could be spending that money on programs that would help far more Americans as a whole.