Since 2000, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops to people who do no farming, an analysis by The Washington Post found.
The money comes from a misguided 1996 farm law that was meant to phase out farm subsidies that began during the Depression. Though the subsidies helped farmers who were facing low prices, they imposed strict controls on crops to be grown, which still existed into the early 1990s.
The farm bill, dubbed “Freedom to Farm,” was meant to remove these government limits and phase out the subsidies by offering farmers an annual fixed cash payment based on the farm’s number of acres.
The payments came without restrictions, meaning the farmers received the money as long as they did not develop the land (even if nothing was planted).
Although the annual payments were supposed to decline over a seven-year period to transition farmers away from the subsidies, the program has been expanded.
As a result, non-farmers who are moving into residential areas that once were farmland are receiving government checks just for living on the land. Some of these individuals are also taking advantage of steep property tax cuts meant for farmland.
Wealthy farmers are also still receiving annual payments, regardless of whether or not they are growing the subsidized crop.
Efforts to revise the farm subsidies have been continually thwarted by powerful farm lobbyists.