Most trade war relief aid bypassed small & medium farms

A 60 Minutes investigation follows the money from President Trump's $28 billion trade war bailout for agriculture.

Grassley on farm subsidy limits

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Lesley Stahl reported on the U.S. federal government's $28 billion agriculture bailout to help struggling farmers affected by President Donald Trump's trade war with China. 

The United States Department of Agriculture administered the Market Facilitation Program in 2018 without congressional oversight by tapping funds in its Commodity Credit Corporation, an entity created in 1933 through executive order by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

According to U.S. law, the CCC was established in order to stabilize, support and protect farm income and prices. It is intended to be used as a government tool to help maintain the balance and supply of agricultural commodities in the country.

In its Market Facilitation Program, the USDA followed eligibility rules in the 2018 U.S. farm bill. Then, last year, it doubled the payment limit per person or legal entity from $125,000 to $250,000.

In a digital exclusive interview, Lesley Stahl spoke with Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who was one of 13 senators who voted against the 2018 farm bill. Grassley told 60 Minutes he supports the President's bailout for farmers in general, but not the provision that allows farmers' extended family members to collect the taxpayer money. 

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Senator Chuck Grassley

"The rationale for my considering a $250,000 cap [is] that only one manager per farm can get [it] and that manager ought to be involved in the operation of the farm," Senator Grassley said. "And that usually in a family farm includes that manager doing labor, as well, getting dirt under their fingers."

Grassley is himself a farmer. According to his office, he received money from the federal bailout. The 86-year-old lawmaker told Stahl he is still involved in his family farm and split the government subsidy funds with his son.

As part of our investigation, 60 Minutes interviewed lawyer Robert Serio who told Stahl the largest farm partnership he helped form over his 20-plus year career consisted of 66 people. 

"These are not loopholes," Robert Serio said. "They are designed regulations. All I did was follow a trail that the government laid out for me."

60 Minutes found among those who have collected farm bailout money are a banker, an architect and a composer living in various big cities across the U.S.
 
The Trump administration's 2018 Market Facilitation Program has given about one-third of the agriculture subsidy funding to only 4% of farmers, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

The video above was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.