Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Paying dead farmers

The General Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report saying the Agriculture Department distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates of farmers who had died. The department is permitted to pay subsidies for two years after a farmer dies, to give the heirs time to get through probate and decide what to do. But then it's supposed to have local officials check to make sure farming is being done, and that the land isn't being held merely to collect subsidies. In 40 percent of the cases the department didn't check at all, and in 38 percent it went ahead and paid despite weak paperwork.

This confirms that the farm payment system is basically a way to transfer money rather than to support real farmers, especially family farmers. In 2004 a third of payments went to "very large" operations (over $250,000 a year income). And a WaPo investigation found the government "gave $1.3 billion between 2000 and 2006 to landowners who did not farm at all."

The whole farm program -- subsidies, price supports, import restrictions, everything -- should be scrapped. Food is essential. The taxpayers don't have to subsidize people to grow it, raising prices in ways that affect poor people most in the process. Unfortunately, the Dems' "reform bill contains only minor tweaks.

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