Millionaire Farmers Still Receiving Subsides Despite Attempts at Reform

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

WASHINGTON, November 25, 2008 - In times of tight budgets and empty federal coffers, millionaires, large profitable farm operations and wealthy absentee landlords are still receiving federal farm subsidies, despite repeated attempts at reform by fiscal watchdogs, hunger advocates and environmental groups.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday details how 2,702 wealthy individuals who should have been ineligible for farm subsidies pocketed $49 million dollars in US Department of Agriculture payments from 2003 to 2006. The law bars people who make more than $2.5 million a year and who receive less than 75 percent of their income from farm activities from receiving farm subsidies.

According to the GAO, wealthy subsidy recipients were scattered among 49 states, and nine lived in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. The report said that USDA officials explained they lacked funds and legal authority to examine individual tax returns to verify whether people applying for farm subsides were actually eligible. USDA does not even routinely sample its beneficiaries for income eligibility, GAO said.

At a press conference today, President-elect Obama citied the GAO report as an example of poor government management. "If it's true," Obama said of the GAO study, "it's a prime example of waste."

“This is exactly the kind of bureaucratic malfeasance that turns hope into cynicism when it comes to believing that government can do the right thing,” Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said. “These rules were very clear. The ‘means test’ for subsidies was ludicrously generous. Yet USDA allowed these abuses to occur."

“With our economy in peril, we continue to borrow money from China and other countries and hand hundreds of thousands of dollars over to rich landowners who don’t need or even qualify for help,” Cook said.

“Democrats in Congress sold the current farm bill to the public on the promise of reform,” Cook said. “Congress’ own investigative office, however, has conclusively demonstrated that the system is broken. When will the American public get an agriculture system that rewards good stewardship and practices, instead of continually heaping tax dollars on those who simply do not need it? ” Cook asked.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s farm subsidy database and related reports and analysis can be found at

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