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About 15 senators — including Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris — wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, accusing the U.S. Department of Agriculture of “picking winners and losers among farms and regions” when distributing trade assistance intended to alleviate harm inflicted by the trade war with China.
Among the ways Democrats say the Market Facilitation Program has treated farmers unfairly include:
- Giving 95 percent of top county payment rates to southern farmers, despite the fact that southern crops – like cotton – did not have a price decline. The five states that received the highest payments per acre were Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas.
- Meanwhile, farmers in the Midwest and Northern Plains have endured both lower national soybean prices and higher transportation costs.
- Payments were made to billionaires and foreign-owned companies.
The senators cited statistics from a Democratic-commissioned (minority) report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
“The USDA does nothing to target assistance to those most vulnerable, including beginning farmers and small farms,” the senators said. “We are concerned that it will lead to further consolidation of family-owned farms and wipe out the next generation of farmers.”
In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement to the Associated Press that aid was distributed to help farmers impacted by “unjustified retaliatory tariffs.”
"While criticism is easy to come up with, we welcome constructive feedback from any member of Congress with recommendations as to how the program could be better administered," the agency said.
Trump has plugged his administration’s treatment of U.S. farmers – most recently pertaining to the phase one trade deal that he said on Tuesday is close to completion. According to the terms of the partial deal, China has agreed to purchase between $40 billion and $50 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products.
Aid, however, is desperately needed in some areas of the country. As reported by The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, an increasing number of farmers are turning to alternative lenders for farm loans as traditional farm banks give out less money. Farm debt is expected to hit $416 billion this year, the publication noted.