‘That’s just the way it happens:’ Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue defends the trade war bailout that mostly benefited wealthy farmers

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks with reporters after testifying on the FY2019 USDA budget request, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
  • Perdue defended the $US28 billion trade war bailout program for farmers, which critics argue benefited wealthier people.
  • That’s just the way it happens. These are – these are awards based on the production,” Perdue told “60 Minutes” on CBS News.
  • The program also found that investors had received federal bailout money, including a banker and an architect.
  • Farmers are set to receive another $US19 billion in additional federal relief due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue defended the $US28 billion trade war bailout program implemented for financially devastated farmers at the height of the US-China trade war in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

His comments come as farmers affected by the coronavirus pandemic are set to get another $US19 billion from the federal government.

The initial bailout program had been criticised for aiding large corporate farms at the expense of smaller farmers. Perdue, though, told CBS News the aid went to farms that produced the most.

“Most of our production in America is done by large farmers,” Perdue told interviewer Lesley Stahl. “That’s just the way it happens. These are – these are awards based on the production. And – but we did try. We’ve got payment limits that cut people off.”

Those payment limits were raised to $US250,000 from $US125,000, meaning larger farms weathering even bigger losses could reap more of the money.

“We saw the amount of trade damage that was happening here,” Perdue said. “The need was out there in order to keep these farmers where they could continue. Not be made whole, but to continue to survive to farm again the next year.”

Citing data from the Environmental Working Group, 60 Minutes found there was a substantial amount of aid flowing to wealthier farmers, some of whom had only an ownership interest as investors and weren’t directly involved in daily operations.

Some recipients of federal money, according to the program, were a banker, an architect, and a composer.

The Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Perdue said in the interview said the agency was following the rules Congress had already laid out.

Back in 2018, the Trump administration initiated the $US16 billion program to help offset losses among farmers who lost sales or faced retaliatory tariffs from China, Mexico, Canada, and the European Union. As trade disputes stretched into their second year, the administration infused an additional $US12 billion.

At the urging of Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow in February, the Government Accountability Office opened an investigation into the management of the bailout program.

“It’s clear that the Trump administration’s trade assistance payments pick winners and losers rather than help the farmers who have been hit the hardest by this president’s trade policies,” the Michigan senator said in a statement at the time.