Farmers Convicted Of Fraud Still Got Trump Bailout Funds

Some farmers who received payments from Chief executive Donald Trump’s farm bailout program had previously been convicted or accused of fraudulently obtaining national agriculture subsidies.

Three farm operations accused of violating federal farm subsidy rules received more than $300,000 in payments from the $28 billion agriculture bailout Trump launched in 2018, relating to data that environmentally friendly Working Group, a liberal nonprofit that needs to reform farm subsidies, distributed to HuffPost.

Farmers are supposed to lose all eligibility for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs if they’re convicted of felony fraudulence, a department spokesperson said, plus they can be barred from other USDA programs for quite a while if the agency locates violations of crop insurance rules.

The fraud cases are a little but dramatic illustration of the way the Trump administration has generated generous new benefits for farmers while cracking down on food assistance for the indegent, ostensibly because people abuse the benefits when they should be working instead.

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY Working Group’s farm subsidy database, which it compiles annually from formal records demands to the USDA, shows at least three farmers accused – and in two cases, convicted – of fraud among the 600,000 who received payments from the marketplace Facilitation Program, otherwise known as Trump’s farm bailout.

A Kansas farmer convicted of crop insurance scams in 2019 received $250,000 in MFP payments in 2018 and 2019. The farmer allegedly underreported his 2015 corn crop by a large number of bushels to be able to qualify for higher national crop insurance payments. Though the farmer was convicted last year, sentencing took place this season. The USDA said it was “not permitted to go after administrative sanctions until sentencing was complete.”

An Iowa farmer convicted of crop insurance fraud in 2018 received $13,000 from MFP. However the conviction, to make a false statement regarding the crop insurance, wasn’t a felony. “USDA cannot stop people getting entitlement programs unless convicted of Felony Fraudulence,” an agency spokesperson said. (Crop insurance regulations say producers can be disqualified for five years for phony statements.)

An Illinois farm that paid $5.4 million in 2014 to stay allegations of bilking a commodity subsidy program received $62,000 from MFP. The USDA acquired no touch upon this case.

“That farm subsidy and crop insurance fraudsters can get government checks from president Trump’s bailout underscores precisely how deeply flawed and rushed out the entranceway this program is,” said Don Carr, a senior adviser for the Environmental Working Group.

The Trump administration has been generous with programs that help people grow food, but stingy with ones that help people eat, issuing regulations to tighten eligibility rules for food benefits and saying that way too many people get help they don’t deserve.

The laxity of food benefit rules is “so egregious a millionaire living in Minnesota successfully enrolled in the program only to highlight the waste of taxpayer money,” Sonny Perdue, the U.S. agriculture secretary, said this past year.

However the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often called food stamps, may have stricter plus more elaborate penalties for fraud than the agency’s various agriculture subsidy programs. When the agency catches someone misrepresenting their monetary circumstances to be able to gain food benefits, they’re banned for yearly. Duplicate offenses or a felony conviction bring about an eternity ban.

Congress sets insurance plan for food benefits and farm programs as part of a “farm invoice” every five years, a political tradition that pairs the hobbies of the indegent and farmers in order to make the legislation unstoppable.

Republicans were not able to get tighter eligibility in the 2018 farm costs, however the Trump administration has been settling some of it has the proposals into some regulations that would lean SNAP enrollment by as much as 10% if finalized.

At the same time, to pay farmers for China’s tariffs on American agriculture exports, the Trump administration in 2018 launched the $28 billion Market Facilitation Program together with the about $20 billion the government already spends on farmers each year. The USDA characterized China’s tariffs as “unjustified,” though they were a predicted retaliation against Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports.

Carr described the trade assistance as a vote-buying program for the leader. Most farmers still support Trump, regardless of the trade war lowering into their already-shrunken incomes. Meanwhile, the richest 10% of farms received over fifty percent of the bailout cash, relating to EWG.

The USDA said its farm payment programs automatically check for ineligible producers, that applications are reviewed by a second party, and that the agency follows up with spot checks on a percentage of applications each year.

“Among the basic steps taken up to minimize fraudulence in farm programs is to require new producers to present a authorities issued photography ID to verify their legal name, and when possible, their address,” the USDA spokesperson said. “Producers are also necessary to present copies of rent agreements or a signed documentation from the landowner so they cannot say to farmland they are not really farming.”

Senate Democrats have complained that this program has disproportionately benefited Southern farmers and even foreign-owned farms, including the Brazilian meat-processing stable JBS.

Last week, Democrats said the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, would look into their complaints about the farm assistance program. While that inspection isn’t necessarily considering whether bailout beneficiaries determined fraud before, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), said it looked like inappropriate.

“If, in fact, people convicted of crop insurance scam are actually getting these obligations, that certainly doesn’t appear right to me,” Stabenow told HuffPost. “And at the same time that [the USDA is] seeking to set these benchmarks and paperwork and bureaucracy around so that it is harder for folks to have the ability to eat and also have usage of food.”

The Trump administration has been generous with programs that help people grow food, but stingy with ones that help people eat.
The USDA has broad authority to throw money at farmers. The firm patterned the bailout program after existing product subsidies, which, like food benefits, include payment limitations, means tests, and work requirements. And farmers are ineligible if they’ve ever committed a manipulated substance violation.

But the tips for the trade payments have gotten less stringent. The USDA has increased the repayment limit from $125,000 to $250,000 per crop category, and this past year began allowing farm households with incomes above $900,000 to get involved as long as three-quarters of their income produced from farming.

Federally subsidized crop insurance, which doesn’t have income or payment limits, is the main farm back-up program. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), the most notable Republican on the home Agriculture Committee, said previous month that one of his biggest fears is a large crop insurance fraudulence case landing on “60 Minutes” and cratering general population support for this program.

Conaway told HuffPost, however, that so long as a convicted fraudster has complied with the conditions of their sentence, they must be allowed to take part in farm programs once more.

“You don’t want your reward bad behavior, but by the same token, we’re a nation of second chances,” Conaway said.

CLARIFICATION: This storyline has been updated to spell it out the Environmental Working Group as attempting to reform farm subsidies rather than opposing them.