Flirting with Austerity: Congress Considers Ending Agriculture Direct Payment Subsidies

Finally. After several years of persistence, it looks like the movement to reform the agriculture direct payments system is finally gaining some momentum. It seems that nothing short of a potential budget crisis was enough of an incentive for Congress to seriously reconsider which federal programs are truly supported by the taxpayer. Seizing upon Congress’ brief lapse into austerity, last week Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced the “Reducing the Deficit through Eliminating Agriculture Direct Payment Subsidies Act of 2011” or “REAPS.”

The direct payments program has been recognized as a vehicle for government waste for some time. Direct payments are subsidies given to landowners whose property has been historically used to grow crops such as wheat, corn, and rice. However, landowners are under no obligation to actually produce crops in order to receive the subsidy. In 2006, The Washington Post ran an article which claimed that the program pays $1.3 billion to people who don’t farm at all. These sentences in particular highlight the federal government’s squandering of taxpayer money:

Some of them collect hundreds of thousands of dollars without planting a seed. Mary Anna Hudson, 87, from the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, has received $191,000 over the past decade. For Houston surgeon Jimmy Frank Howell, the total was $490,709.

Adding insult to injury, the article was written before the 2008 Farm Bill was passed. That bill actually increased the number of subsidies to farmers by nearly $300 billion.

With a preliminary estimate of nearly $28 billion in savings, REAP is definitely a step in the right direction. The bill still has a long way to go, but it’s good to see that Congress is finally attempting to rein in the agriculture handouts. Here’s hoping that Congress not only flirts with austerity but takes some real steps to cut wasteful programs.