USDA faces scrutiny over payments from the Market Facilitation Program

USDA is under new scrutiny for trade aid payments.

Last year, USDA’s Market Facilitation Program paid $14.4 billion dollars to farmers hurt by trade disruptions and tariffs.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office, commissioned by House Democrats, studies the fairness of those programs.

According to Senator Debbie Stabenow, “We should be sitting down in a bipartisan way, like we did the Farm Bill. We had great success in sitting down together and negotiating a farm bill that helped every commodity, every region in a fair way and that’s what we need here... It’s not just another blank check to the USDA, when we know what they have done already is not fair, and that’s what this GAO report is all about.”

Sen. Stabenow asked for the study, concerned about how the funds were distributed. The report found that less than 10 percent of MFP money went to specialty crops or dairy and hog operations. Plus, eight southern states were in the top ten for payments.

The Senator notes, “Whatever we call it, whether we call it market facilitation or whether we call if CFAP, we have to be focused on those farms that need the most help given all of the chaos. Whether it’s trade chaos, COVID-19 chaos, or if there anything else, it needs to done for farmers that face the most risk.”

Looking ahead to more funding for coronavirus assistant, Stabenow says that USDA should use the funds they already have. She adds, “In every other program where we put dollars in for families, for individuals, for small businesses, for healthcare, for every other area... we hear these dollars haven’t been spent, so why are additional dollars needed.”

She has several concerns for USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation spending: “They have not spent the funds they have been given first of all. Secondly, there are no specifics on how they want to spend the money, and third, I want to make sure, again, that they are not threatening the October payments for ARC/PLC, CRP, or other Farm Bill programs, so they have to answer a lot of questions before I would support additional funding.”

Because aid was implemented quickly, lawmakers gave USDA some flexibility to create trade and coronavirus relief programs, but Sen. Stabenow says that Congress should have more control over any future USDA programs.