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Trump Tariff Payment Total? ‘Maybe $8 Billion’

U.S. farmers may receive noticeably less in Trump tariff payments than originally expected, a senior USDA official said on Thursday. And with no end in sight for the five-week partial government shutdown, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley told reporters that food stamps would be in jeopardy if there is no resolution. “I’m worried about that,” he said.

An estimated two thirds of the Trump payments were made by the start of January, said Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Northey on the Adams on Agriculture program, “a little over $5 billion of the maybe $8 billion that we expect we’ll make in mitigation payments.” The payments, officially called the Market Facilitation Program, were created by the administration to offset the impact of the trade war on U.S. agriculture.

Northey did not provide details nor was a USDA spokesman immediately available to say why the figure differed from the USDA’s earlier estimate that up to $9.6 billion in cash would go to producers of almonds, cotton, corn, dairy, pork, soybeans, sorghum, sweet cherries, and wheat. Soybean growers, hit hard by the loss of sales to China, were in line for $7.3 billion.

There are limits to aid payments — $125,000 for each of the three categories of grain, livestock, and fruit and nut production — and payments are not allowed to people with more than $900,000 in average adjusted gross income. The rules would constrain payments to large operations. Besides payments to growers, the USDA said it would buy $1.2 billion worth of food for donation and provide $200 million to ag export groups for trade promotion work.

Some 38.6 million Americans are enrolled in SNAP. The USDA released benefits in advance for February, but the program’s reserve fund is too small to pay benefits in full for March. When he announced the early release of February benefits, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said there was ample time for Congress to act by ending the shutdown, which hinges on President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

The think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says SNAP benefits could be prorated if the shutdown lasts into March.

Perdue “tweeted exactly one time” about the early release of SNAP benefits for February and at least 15 times about reopening Farm Service Agency offices, reported Politico. The FSA opened half of its 2,100 offices on a stop-gap basis for three days earlier this month before the USDA announced it had White House approval to open all of them on Thursday — with 9,700 employees working without pay. A USDA spokesman told Politico that “counting the number of tweets tells nothing about the whole effort” to assure the smooth operation of public nutrition and farm support programs.

Debbie Stabenow, the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she was concerned the shutdown “will leave our financial markets susceptible to undue risks.” The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which oversees the futures and derivatives markets, is among agencies without funding. Only one in 10 CFTC workers is on the job at present, said Stabenow in a letter to CFTC chairman Christopher Giancarlo. “While the CFTC is shut down, the markets it regulates are still open,” she said.

“Food banks — from Chicago to Washington, D.C., from California to Florida to New York City — are reporting jumps in demand for their services from furloughed federal workers, whose numbers hover around 800,000 nationwide,” said Mother Jones. “So far, the administration has revealed no contingency plan to fund SNAP after February.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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