'Trump money': Americans appear unconcerned as trade war makes US farmers desperately reliant on billions in government assistance

'Trump money': Americans appear unconcerned as trade war makes US farmers desperately reliant on billions in government assistance
U.S. Department of Agriculture, photo by Bob Nichols

With tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration causing U.S. farmers to suffer major financial hardships, the Administration addressed their woes in 2019 by providing billions of dollars in subsidies. And farmers are hoping that additional farming assistance will be authorized in 2020.

Journalist Dino Rabouin, in a January 6 article for Axios, explains, “Farmers had a rough 2019, even with a hefty subsidy package provided to them by the Trump Administration as relief from the trade war. Chapter 12 bankruptcies rose 24% over the previous year, and farm debt is projected to hit a record high $416 billion.”

Those subsidies, Rabouin stresses, were desperately needed by U.S. farmers in 2019.

“Overall, farm income increased last year,” Rabouin observes. “But without the $14.5 billion tranche of farm subsidies delivered by the government, U.S. farm income would have fallen by about $5 billion from its already low 2018 level.”

Although it remains to be seen whether or not farmers will receive more subsidies in 2020, Rabouin stresses, it’s obvious how much they’ve come to depend on them to make ends meet and stay afloat.

Missouri-based farmer Robert Henry told National Public Radio (NPR), “‘Trump money’ is what we call it. It helped a lot.” And Justin Sherlock, a North Dakota farmer, told Reuters, “If the government doesn’t pay us, we’re done.”

In a December 31 report for NPR, Dan Charles discusses the challenges that U.S. farmers are facing. In 2019, Charles notes, farmers received more than $22 billion in subsidies altogether.

Joe Glauber, former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), told NPR that he is worried about the effects of the trade wars and how much they are making farmers reliant on government assistance.

“The sector that is hurt the most, and which would normally complain — all of a sudden, it’s assuaged by these payments,” Glauber told NPR. “To me, that’s a problem.”

Cornell University economist Catherine Kling is concerned as well, telling NPR the American public should be seeing more benefit from the farm subsidies. “I think it’s a real lost opportunity,” King told NPR.

The budget for both farm subsidies and food stamp benefits (now called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP) both come from the USDA. And Democratic Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge (a member of the House Agriculture Committee) has a major problem with Republicans who want to fund farm subsidies but not SNAP. The Midwestern congresswoman told NPR,  “They’ve already given out $19 billion to farmers, but they’re cutting $5 billion from people in need. I don’t even know how to describe it except to say that it is cruel, it is unfair — and it is clearly designed to support the president's base, as he sees it, as opposed to those whom he sees as being undeserving.”

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