Farm subsidies for the rich and famous

(Image: Flickr member MattJP licensed under Creative Commons)

(Image: Flickr member MattJP licensed under Creative Commons)

This month’s hastily passed fiscal cliff deal included an extension of a contentious farm bill that has ‘real’ farmers seeing red. The agriculture community is currently bracing itself for significant cuts to support programmes that are lifelines for many farmers and ranchers.

But, according to the New York Post, the extension did include a few goodies — not for farmers who know how to work the land, but for who else? A handful of wealthy New Yorkers:

The recipients include some “farmers” who already have their own well-cultivated money trees, among them Mark F. Rockefeller.

“That should really make people wonder what on earth has happened to the farm program,” said Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group, which maintains a national database of farm-subsidy recipients.

“Payments are going to people in Manhattan who simply have invested in farmland and are about as far away from farmers as one could imagine.”

The paper reports that Rockefeller has received $342,634 in taxpayer handouts from 2001 through 2011 for thousands of acres of farmland he owns in Bonneville County, Idaho. The subsidies are paid to ensure he does not farm the land and instead allows it to return to its natural state.

In 2011, Sen. Thomas Coburn of Oklahoma released a report entitled “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous,” which found $316 million in farm subsidies for wealthy people around the country – most of whom had little to do with agriculture.

All Americans are facing tough times, with many working two jobs just to make ends meet and more families turning to the government for financial assistance. From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Those rich and famous, according to Coburn’s report, include NBA star Scottie Pippen, media mogul Ted Turner, musician Jon Bon Jovi, who reportedly paid $100 in property taxes on his extensive real estate holdings in New Jersey because he uses the land to raise bees, and fellow rocker Bruce Springsteen, who received farm subsidies because his property is leased to an organic farmer.

Coburn makes the point that Americans are generous people who do not want to see their fellow citizens go without basic necessities. “Likewise,” he says, “we expect everyone to contribute and to demonstrate personal responsibility. Government policies intended to mainstream wealth redistribution are undermining these principles. The tragic irony is the wealth in these cases is trickling up rather than down the economic ladder.”

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