Four freshman lawmakers eager to cut government receive federal farm subsidies

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Last year, farmer Marlin Stutzman collected $30,813 in direct federal subsidies for his Stuzman Farms in Indiana and southern Michigan.

This year, as a newly elected member of Congress, Stutzman, R-Ind., sits on the House Agriculture Committee that will help determine if those subsidies will continue.

Stutzman is one of four freshmen members of Congress who have farms that have collected direct subsidies from the government since they took office. Each took home income from their farm productions as sitting members of Congress in 2011, according to their financial disclosure forms.

Three are members of the House Agriculture Committee that began work on the Farm Bill back in July. While the Senate passed a version; the House did not before lawmakers departed Washington for the election. And that means the existing legislation expired in October, and its future remains uncertain when lawmakers return after the election.

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    Stutzman’s farms collected $30,813 in direct federal subsidies in fiscal year 2012 through two different Department of Agriculture programs. One is the Counter-cyclical Payments Program, which is is designed “to provide income support to eligible producers of covered commodities.”

    The Farm Service Agency counts wheat, corn, barley, oats, upland cotton, rice, soy, peanuts, lentils and chickpeas among its eligible commodities.

    The government spent $3.9 billion on the program in fiscal year 2012, and has spent nearly $100 billion since 2000. The other is the Conservation Reservation Program, which was created to protect the nation’s long-term capability to produce food, reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and create wildlife habitat.

    According to USDA spending reports, this program has cost the government $18.4 billion since 2000 and $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2012 alone.

    Stutzman is no stranger to federal subsidies. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that tracks federal farm subsidies, received $190,226 in farm subsidies between 1997 and 2011. But in 2010, Stutzman told an Indiana newspaper that he is opposed to the subsidy system as it manipulates the market. Yet, he continued to collect checks.

    “The point is it’s the farm system. They’re going to send me a check here in a couple of weeks, and you know what? I’m going to deposit it. I don’t like it. I don’t like the system,” Stutzman said.

    During his time in Washington, Stutzman has upheld that opposition.

    “Since my first day here in Washington, I’ve been consistent in my opposition to direct payments, payments I’ve received in the past. I know firsthand that they only handcuff farmers and manipulate the economy. They’ve outgrown any use they may have had,” he said in a statement. “My principled opposition to direct payments should not be confused with any misguided opposition to genuine safety nets for farmers.”
    Earlier this year, he joined with Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., in proposing a plan to cut $40 billion by eliminating some direct subsidy programs and nutrition program spending.
    It is legal for sitting members of Congress to receive federal farm subsidies, and members of both parties have sat on the Senate and House Agriculture Committees while receiving farm subsidies in the past, said Don Carr, Senior Communications and Policy Advisor at the Environmental Working Group. Although it is nothing new, Carr said people should still be concerned about where those members’ allegiances lie.

    “Anytime a member of Congress is voting on more money going to their self interest that’s going to be a conflict of interest,” Carr said.

    Yet, he noted Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Lugar both have received farm subsidies, sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee and have fought for years to put a limit on the amount of money that can go to the largest farms.

    “My hope is [the members of the House Agriculture Committee who receive subsidies] would look at farms with limited funds and struggling family farmers that need the money much more than the large food producers do,” he said.

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