City Dwellers Get $24 Million From Farm Program That Won’t Die

Photograph by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A farmer is reflected in a window looking onto freshly harvested soft red winter wheat in the cab of his combine in Kirkland, Illinois, on July 17, 2013.

Congress’s inability to pass a new farm law may frustrate farmers. Still, it may not be a bad deal for some city-dwellers, who received $24 million last year from a program that keeps getting extended until a new law is passed.

Residents of urban areas who are still in some way connected to farmland continue to get money from the government’s $5 billion annual direct-payment program, according to an analysis of farm-subsidy data by Environmental Working Group, a conservation-advocacy organization.

Direct payments, which date to 1996, would be eliminated under new agriculture laws adopted by both the House and Senate this year. Still, unless the two chambers can iron out their differences before the current law expires Sept. 30, an extension of current programs is possible, potentially letting city-slickers get paid another year.

“Many of the city dwellers who receive direct payments  have an ownership interest in a farm, but are only marginally involved in its operation and may not even visit it,” writes Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs with the Washington-based Environmental Working Group. “It looks more likely that Congress will vote to extend the current farm bill once again.”

Among the 54 most-populous U.S. areas tracked by the organization, Houston, Texas, had the biggest haul, with 1,405 recipients receiving $1.9 million. Other cities with more than $1 million in aid were, from most to least, Fresno, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Spokane, Washington; and Dallas, Texas. Along with Houston, cities with more than 1,000 recipients were St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.

The current agriculture law, which funds food aid to the poor and subsidies that encourage crop production for buyers including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., was passed in 2008. It expired last year and was extended into this year to give Congress more time to approve a plan.

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