New USDA rules aim to distribute farm aid more fairly

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The Trump administration says it’s making big changes to farmer relief payments designed to make sure everyone gets their fair share, but critics say the new rules don’t go far enough to protect small farms.

Reports show big agribusinesses scooped up the majority of the aid designated for farmers hit hard by the trade war with China, falling crop prices and extreme weather.

“It’s a challenge to get these things right,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Northey said. “It’s hard to get the numbers just right between counties, it’s hard to get the numbers right between commodities.”

Reports show that during the first two rounds of the program, big farms may have helped themselves to more than was fair, some scoring as much as $2.8 million and the top 10% taking more than half of the $8 billion paid out.

Northey said the next round will be different.

“By design, it is responsive to the amount of impact that folks have,” he said of the new regulations. “We have great restrictions on making sure that only those qualify for this based on their production, based on their historical acres, will be able to participate.”

No one earning an average of $900,000 or more a year will be eligible for aid and no individual can receive more than $500,000.

Still, critics argue the changes won’t close the gap between big and small farms.

“There’s some other changes going on that really kind of (exacerbate) and create even further problems,” Rob Larew of the National Farmers Union said.

In fact, he said the new rules could give big farmers even bigger checks because they’re based on acreage instead of production.

“The super large farms are ultimately going to be OK. They’re going to be able to get help. But they don’t support these communities,” Larew said.

Democrats in Congress aren’t impressed by the aid program, either. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said the core problem is Trump’s trade war.

“The Administration continues to move ahead with no real trade strategy. These short-term, inequitable payouts are not a replacement for markets and a coherent trade strategy,” she said in a statement last week.

“No matter how he (Trump) does it, it’s not good for agriculture or the country,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, added of the new rules.

The USDA says anyone caught trying to abuse the system will face consequences.

It is accepting applications for this year’s package. The first payments will come out at the end of August.

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