Largest farms received most trade bailout, COVID-19 payments

This article first appeared on the Environmental Working Group’s website. -promoted by Laura Belin

The largest and wealthiest U.S. farm businesses received the biggest share of almost $33 billion in payments from two subsidy programs – one created by the Trump administration to respond to the president’s trade war and the other by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to updates to EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database.

The Market Facilitation Program, or MFP, was intended to offset the perceived damage done by the administration’s trade war, which reduced many farmers’ access to lucrative Chinese markets. Payments for the 2018 and 2019 crop years were just over $23 billion – more than $8.5 billion for 2018 and $14.5 billion for 2019.

EWG’s analysis of Department of Agriculture records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, shows:

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Iowa's state universities won't follow Trump's payroll tax deferral

Tens of thousands of employees at Iowa’s state universities will have their payroll taxes withheld as usual this fall, despite a recent executive order from President Donald Trump.

Trump moved last month to suspend payroll taxes from September 1 through December 31, 2020. Affected employees would see slightly higher paychecks for the next four months, but would have lower take-home pay from January through April 2021 as employers withhold double the amount for payroll taxes.

Josh Lehman, communications director for the Iowa Board of Regents, told Bleeding Heartland on September 9,

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Iowa agriculture, climate change, and "SWAPA"

Paul W. Johnson is a preacher’s kid, former Iowa state legislator, former chief of the USDA Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service, former director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and a retired farmer. -promoted by Laura Belin

In the early 1980s there was a serious farm crisis in Iowa. Land and commodity prices were falling, so banks were calling in farm loans and foreclosing on farmers who couldn’t pay up. Maurice Dingman was bishop of the Des Moines area during those years, and he was speaking up strongly for farmers who were suffering during this time. I was impressed by his defense of family farmers.

In 1987 David Osterberg and I were serving in the Iowa legislature–he representing Mount Vernon, I representing Decorah–and working on groundwater protection. Industrial agriculture sent their lobbyists to weaken our legislation, and newspapers were carrying stories about their fierce opposition to our work.

During this time, Bishop Dingman phoned us and suggested we have lunch together. 

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Ernst's words don't match actions on COVID-19 relief for fossil fuels industry

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst told members of the Iowa Farmers Union in June that she’d prefer for fossil fuel companies not to be eligible for COVID-19 relief funds.

However, months earlier she was among only two farm state senators to sign a letter aimed at ensuring that oil, gas, and coal companies would have access to federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

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Grassley, Ernst silent as Trump, Barr continue purge

Another Friday night has brought another irregular ouster of a federal official whose work should be insulated from politics.

Four days later, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, a self-styled warrior for oversight and accountability in Washington, has said nothing. Neither has Senator Joni Ernst, who like Grassley serves on the committee that oversees the justice system.

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