Stabenow blasts Trump admin over GAO report showing southern advantage in trade deal aid

Corn farmers received far less trade-war aid than cotton growers did, a new GAO report shows. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

The nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office this week reported that eight of the nine states receiving the highest trade-war aid payments per acre in 2019 were in the South. Michigan ranked 23rd.

The GAO launched an investigation at the request of U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The money from the Market Facilitation Program was intended to compensate farmers for losses related to tariffs on U.S. commodities during President Trump’s trade war with China.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow | Andrew Roth

“From the start, I’ve been concerned that the Trump administration’s trade payments have picked winners and losers and left small farms behind,” Stabenow said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s unequal treatment of farmers is a pattern that we’re continuing to see in USDA’s COVID-19 relief program. The administration needs to stop playing favorites and start helping the farms hit the hardest.”

Brown said Trump’s policies have favored big business. “By mismanaging these payments to farmers, the Trump administration has continued to play favorites and betray the small farmers who need help the most,” Brown said in a statement. 

Some Midwest Republicans also blasted the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the report.

“That’s kind of an irritation on my part not only on this program, but going back to the Farm Bills,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told agriculture reporters earlier this week. “Somehow, southern agriculture always comes out better than Midwestern agriculture.

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“Whatever was decided was decided by regulation and guidance and the secretary of agriculture [Sonny Perdue],” Grassley added.

Perdue, a veterinarian and businessman, served two terms as governor of Georgia. He was born in Perry, Ga. He was appointed ag secretary by President Donald Trump in April 2017.

Georgia topped all states with payments of $119 per acre, the GAO reported, while Michigan received less than half of that — $54 per acre. Georgia averaged $56,732 per farm, while Michigan averaged $18,824 per farm. Larger farms fared better than smaller ones, GAO reported.

Michigan received a total of $260.6 million in aid, or 1.8% of the total. Iowa received the biggest sum at $1.6 billion, or 11%.

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Grassley said one of the issues with the 2019 aid program was a lack of congressional advice. 

“We didn’t have a lot of direction on that money,” Grassley said. “I’m sure Secretary Purdue is always going to be reviewing these iniquities and iniquities should be eliminated.”

A USDA spokesperson told Progressive Farmer that the aid payments were “based on trade damage, not on regions or farm size.” the USDA accused Democrats of skewing the data and said COVID-19 aid programs will come with more elaborate instructions from Congress. Grassley noted that federal programs guarantee a profit for cotton-growers, but not for corn, soybean or wheat farmers.

A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Read the story here.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.
Perry Beerman
Iowa Capital Dispatch senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.