In 2019, the federal government delivered an extraordinary financial aid package to America's farmers. Farm subsidies jumped to their highest level in 14 years, most of them paid out without any action by Congress.$28 billion is rather a lot of money, more than the auto bailout cost in 2009. The auto bailout was hotly debated and many Republicans spoke against it, saying that companies that can't stay afloat on their own should disappear. None of those guys have said a word about this farm bailout.
The money flowed to farmers like Robert Henry. When I visited in early July, many of his fields near New Madrid, Mo., had been flooded for months, preventing him from working in them. The soybeans that he did manage to grow had fallen in value; China wasn't buying them, in retaliation for the Trump administration's tariffs.
That's when the government stepped in. Some of the aid came from long-familiar programs. Government-subsidized crop insurance covered some of the losses from flooding. Other payments were unprecedented. The U.S. Department of Agriculture simply sent him a check to compensate him for the low prices resulting from the trade war.
" 'Trump money' is what we call it," Henry said. "It helped a lot. And it's my understanding, they're going to do it again."
Indeed, a few weeks later, the USDA announced another $16 billion in trade-related aid to farmers. It came on top of the previous year's $12 billion package, for a grand total of $28 billion in two years. About $19 billion of that money had been paid out by the end of 2019, and the rest will be paid in 2020.
I am ambivalent about farm subsidies; maybe this is a good idea and maybe it is not. But the Trump administration did this under an old law, without going through Congress, so there was no debate and very few Americans even know this is happening.