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Minority, new farmers received small percentage of Trump trade aid, GAO says

By Leah Douglas

Feb 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) distributed a small percentage of payments to farmers of color, veterans and new farmers under former President Donald Trump's trade aid program in 2018 and 2019, according to a nonpartisan government report released Thursday.

The agency's Market Facilitation Program (MFP) was set up to distribute payments to farmers to offset losses from Trump's trade war with China, a major buyer of U.S. agricultural goods, but was unevenly implemented, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported

It paid “historically underserved farmers,” including new, female, veteran, and minority farmers, a combined $818 million across the two years, or 3.6 percent of the total $23 billion it disbursed, the report said.

“President Trump’s trade wars affected every corner of our agricultural sector – and unfortunately USDA’s response fell short,” Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who requested that GAO review the program, said in a statement.

Socially disadvantaged farmers – defined by USDA as “groups that have been subject to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice” - received $435.7 million, or about 1.9% of the program funds. Beginning farmers, who have been farming for up to 10 years, received $152.1 million, or about 0.7%, and military veterans received $240.5 million, or about 1%.

The amounts are not proportional to those groups' representation among farmers, according to data from the 2017 Department of Agriculture census, the most recent available. Some 6.7% of farmers are racial minorities, 27% are beginning farmers, 36% are female, and 11% have served in the military.

"Today’s GAO report confirms what we already knew to be true: that the trade war under the previous administration was catastrophic for America’s farmers, and that the recovery implemented under the MFP was uneven and unfair," said USDA spokesperson Kate Waters.

The GAO recommended that USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), which implemented the program, improve its data collection and review process, and the agency agreed, according to the report.

A previous GAO report in December found that the MFP had paid corn farmers $3 billion more than USDA’s final estimated damages from the trade war. (Reporting by Leah Douglas; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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