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28 February, 2009 - Where the USDA Buget Goes

Throughout the course of the year I get letters and e-mails from listeners, most of them not directly involved in agriculture, who are worried about or complaining about the size of the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One recent e-mail from a listener said, “With only two percent of the people in this country involved directly in farming or ranching, why do we spend billions of dollars in the Department of Agriculture for programs that really don’t benefit most of us?”

I would like to set the record straight on that budget this week and it’s timely, because a few days ago the House of Representatives approved the USDA budget for the upcoming fiscal year....total 108-billion dollars. That is a lot of money, but when you put it alongside Bank Rescue, Stimulus, Automobile Rescue, it isn’t all that large.

But now let’s look at where those dollars go. The lion’s share of the USDA budget, 70%, totaling $75-billion,660-million dollars goes to domestic food aid programs. WIC, Women, Infant & Children’s Nutrition; another program for child nutrition and then, of course, the biggest one of all, Food Stamps. Incidentally, it is no longer known as the Food Stamp Program in the new budget; it is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (I guess we call it SNAP) and that goes to benefit the more than 31-million people who are now on the Food Stamp or SNAP Program. Again, $75-billion of the $108-billion goes to non-farm programs.

But it doesn’t stop there; another two-and-a-half billion goes to foreign food aid to help feed people in developing countries. Other programs that benefit all of us beyond just farmers and ranchers include Food Safety and Meat Inspection...$3-1⁄2 billion dollars; environmental programs that include the various conservation programs to preserve our vital natural resources account for about $2-1/3 billion dollars and we can’t forget funding for the Forest Service Program.

So, what about the area that concerns most of the letter-writers and e-mailers?...subsidy programs and direct payments to farmers. Those programs this year amounted to about $7-billion, about 10% of the amount going for food programs in the USDA budget. Note, also, that the proposed stimulus program will add another $10-billion to the Food Stamp or SNAP program.

I’m not complaining about that, but I just want to set the record straight on where the dollars go and remind everyone that only a small percentage goes into producer’ pockets.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.