CEDAR RAPIDS — The U.S. Senate likely will vote on a new farm bill later this week, and Sen. Chuck Grassley hopes it includes his limits on payments to nonfarmers.
His amendment would stop payments of up to $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples who do not work on farms. The payments are allowed under the designation “Active Personal Management Only.” The payments can be twice as much for those involved in peanut farming.
“That’s a reform that I’ve advocated for a long time,” the Iowa Republican told reporters Wednesday.
The payment limitation was included in the Senate version of the 2014 farm bill, but was removed in conference committee. Grassley then voted against the bill.
“Last time, I took it for granted that if the amendment is the same in both (House and Senate) bills, the conferees can’t touch it,” said Grassley, a Senate Agriculture Committee member. He learned his lesson.
“I’ve got to have a strategy this time, and I do. I hope you don’t want to know because I don’t want to tell people what I’m going to try to do,” he said.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the top 50 largest subsidy recipients for 2015 used nearly 200 extra managers to increase their farm subsidy payments. That cost taxpayers $259 million, the GAO reported.
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That’s intolerable to Grassley, a Butler County farmer who believes in a limited safety net to protect farmers from natural disasters and other things “beyond the control of the family farmers.”
An unlimited safety net “grossly distorts the markets and makes it very easy for nonfarmers to game the system,” Grassley said.
Grassley, whose children and grandchildren are actively involved in farming, said the limitations would offer more opportunity for young farmers. The current subsidy system has contributed to the consolidation of farms and a decline in “the economy and face of small towns across rural America,” he said.
“My amendment won’t stop that by itself, but will make it easier for young farmers who are trying to compete against large, well-established farmers,” said Grassley, who noted the average age of American farmers is nearing 60.
If approved in the farm bill, the amendment will affect 2 percent of those eligible for farm programs — the same 2 percent who, Grassley said, “seem to be instead of farming the farm are farming the farm program.”
“Farm programs should help people who actually farm,” Grassley said. “I can’t defend farm subsidies that go to Wall Street or people who live in beach houses.”
Politically, he said, it should make the farm bill more defensible to the 98 percent of Americans who don’t farm.
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