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Urban dwellers, far from fields, harvest millions in federal farm subsidies

June 24, 2011 |  3:13 pm

Downtown farmer 
Turns out you don’t have to live on a farm to pull in farm subsidies from the federal government.

In its latest update to its farm subsidy database, the Environmental Working Group reported this week that the federal government sent $394 million in federal farm subsidies last year to people who live in cities with populations of 100,000 or larger.

The data in the 2011 Farm Subsidy Database, which can be searched here, comes as Congress is wrestling with ways to cut the budget. Lawmakers are also preparing to start the laborious process of updating, and potentially overhauling, the federal farm program.

"While 60% of American farmers must get along without a dime in federal subsidies, the so-called farm 'safety net' benefits a narrow band of the wealthiest agri-businesses and absentee land owners and the lobbyists who ensure that the subsidies keep flowing," EWG officials said in a statement.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Acting Undersecretary Michael Scuse, who oversees the farm program, told reporters this week that it’s perfectly acceptable for city folk to get farm subsidies as long as they had an active role in the farming operation.

The federal agency has previously stated that overhauls in the 2008 farm bill helped USDA save at least $200 million by, among other things, cutting off subsidies to the country’s wealthiest people.

But EWG and other critics, who have long advocated for shifting farm spending to programs that emphasize land stewardship, say such restrictions aren’t limiting enough.

“Once again we've exposed the fact that our government is doling out subsidies to big farms that don't need the help and a lot of folks who don't live anywhere near a farm,” EWG President Ken Cook said in a statement.

RELATED: 

Obama's budget would deeply cut farm subsidies

Senate defeats measure to eliminate ethanol tax break

Farm insurance fraud is cheating taxpayers out of millions

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: The sun sets behind downtown Los Angeles as workers toss harvested corn into a combine. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times

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