Fat Cats and Food Stamps

Why billionaire "farmers" may be the biggest beneficiaries of no matter which version of the farm bill becomes law

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AP / Jim Suhr

As a bipartisan conference committee meets this week in an effort to hammer out differences over the Farm Bill, we’re sure to be reminded of the roughly 47 million Americans who use SNAP, the program formerly known as “food stamps.”

But while SNAP accounts for a hefty majority of the Farm Bill’s costs, low-income Americans receiving nutrition assistance aren’t the only ones who benefit from the legislation. More than 50 billionaires raked in a combined $11.3 million in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The billionaires benefiting from farm subsidies include high-profile names like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (worth $15.8 billion), Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy (worth $6 billion), Charles Schwab, founder of the eponymous brokerage (worth $5.1 billion) and former CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank David Rockefeller Sr. (worth $2.8 billion). U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker (worth $2.2 billion) also makes the list.

To qualify for the total of $11.3 million in subsidies a billionaire had to do a couple things: 1) have had an ownership interest in a farm or a farming company, and 2) either own land that has a history of producing a subsidized crop or, to qualify for “counter-cyclical payments,” be actually growing a crop that sees a drop in value below a minimum guaranteed threshold.

According to EWG, the $11.3 million figure probably understates the true amount of government aid billionaires receive from the farm bill. Many of those on their list are involved in producing crops including corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and sorghum, for which they’re likely to receive crop insurance subsidies, EWG says. There’s no way to tell for certain, though, since public disclosure of the identities of crop insurance policyholders isn’t required under current law.

It’s likely that opportunities for billionaires to receive government aid will grow under the next iteration of the farm bill. The Senate version includes a so-called “means testing” measure, in which crop insurance subsidies would be reduced, though not eliminated, for producers with on-farm incomes over $750,000. What that figure doesn’t include is income made off the farm, so Paul Allen’s stock in Microsoft isn’t factored in when calculating for his eligibility. The competing House version does not include a means testing measure.

“The Senate bill is much more in keeping with previous versions of the Farm Bill,” Saul Jackson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told TIME. “The House is where you’re seeing more radical changes.”

The bill coming out of the GOP-led House seeks a more drastic cutback on spending. Most of the cuts in the House bill would be to SNAP programs for low-income Americans, but $12.9 billion in cuts come from the non-nutrition part of the bill by seeking to pull back on direct payments to crop producers. Both the Senate and House bills move away from traditional farm subsidies and toward crop insurance premium subsidies, but the House version goes even further, increasing the cost of insurance subsidies by $9 billion versus the Senate’s increase of $5 billion.

“We’re going from a transparent and somewhat equitable safety net to a less transparent and more inequitable safety net,” Scott Faber, a vice president for the Environmental Working Group told TIME. Whereas means testing has long been a part of the picture in traditional subsidies paid directly to producers, Faber said, crop insurance subsidies haven’t included means testing, nor have they had disclosure requirements on who gets insurance subsidies, or limits on how much subsidy a beneficiary can receive.

Unlike the old direct payment system, to qualify for crop insurance premium subsidies you do have to be actually growing a crop (or trying to). So if you happen to be a billionaire, you might consider the age-old advice to buy land. God ain’t making any more of it and if you play your cards right a hard-scrabble piece of worn-out earth could help you get on the dole.

Here’s the EWG’s full list of billionaires receiving farm subsidies.

Name

Source of Farm Subsidies

Paul Allen
Net worth: $15.8 billion
#26 on Forbes 400

Kona Residence Trust, which received $14,429 in barley subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Philip Anschutz
Net worth: $10.3 billion
#38 on Forbes 400

Clm Company, which received $553,323 in cotton, wheat, sorghum, corn, oat, barley and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003.Equus Farms, which received $53,191 in livestock subsidies in 2002.

John Arrillaga
Net worth: $1.8 billion
#314 on Forbes 400

Peery & Arrillaga, which received $59,711 in wheat, sorghum, corn, barley, safflower and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2006.

Lee Bass
Net worth: $2.1 billion
#260 on Forbes 400

Panther City Cattle Company, which received $823,129 in cotton, wheat, corn and sorghum subsidies from 2000 to 2007.El Coyote Ranch, which received $297,950 in wheat, sorghum, corn, soybean, oat and barley subsidies from 1995 to 2002.

Riley Bechtel
Net worth: $3.4 billion
#143 on Forbes 400

Fremont Investors, which received $484,283 in rice and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003.

Stephen Bechtel, Jr.
Net worth: $3.4 billion
#143 on Forbes 400

Fremont Investors, which received $484,283 in rice and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003.Wild Goose Club, which received $947 in farm subsidies from 2006 to 2010.

Eli Broad
Net worth: $6.9 billion
#59 on Forbes 400

Placer Ranch Partners LP, which received $56,880 in wheat and rice subsidies from 1995 to 2005.

S. Truett Cathy
Net worth: $6 billion
#68 on Forbes 400

Rock Ranch LLC, which received $4,536 in livestock subsidies in 2003.

Gayle Cook
Net worth: $5.2 billion
#85 on Forbes 400

Cedar Farm Harrison County Inc., which received $41,141 in soybean, corn and tobacco subsidies from 1998 to 2003.

Richard DeVos
Net worth: $6.8 billion
#60 on Forbes 400

Ada Holdings LLC, which received $37,986 in corn, wheat and soybean subsidies from 2001 to 2006.

Charles Ergen
Net worth: $12.5 billion
#32 on Forbes 400

Telluray Ranch, which received $117,826 in crop and livestock disaster payments from 2002 to 2008.

Gerald J. Ford
Net worth: $1.9 billion
#296 on Forbes 400

Rio Hondo Land & Cattle Co. Inc., which received $222,433 in wool subsidies from 1995 to 2003.

Harold Hamm
Net worth: $12.4 billion
#33 on Forbes 400

$26,785 in wheat subsidies and disaster payments from 1995 to 2002.Continental Resources of Illinois, which received $318 in disaster payments, corn and soybean subsidies from 2003 to 2004.

Diane Hendricks
Net worth: $4.4 billion
#103 on Forbes 400

H&H Farms of Wisconsin Inc., which received $379,933 in corn, soybean, wheat, oat and other farm subsidies from 1998 to 2001.

Ray Lee Hunt
Net worth: $5.6 billion
#74 on Forbes 400

Sharyland Limited Partnership, which received $110,270 in cotton, sorghum, sunflower and corn subsidies from 1998 to 2000.Hunt Oil Co., which received $49,381 in livestock subsidies in 2002.

Paul Tudor Jones, II.
Net worth: $3.7 billion
#130 on Forbes 400

Buck Ridge Farms LLC, which received $8,260 in crop disaster payments, cotton, soybean, sorghum and corn subsidies from 1998 to 2003.Tudor Farms Inc., which received $1 in sorghum subsidies in 1996.

George Kaiser
Net worth: $10 billion
#40 on Forbes 400

Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, which received $17,518 in wheat, sorghum and barley subsidies from 1996 to 2003.

Jim Kennedy
Net worth: $6.7 billion
#61 on Forbes 400

$37,162 in rice, corn, sorghum, wheat, soybean, sunflower and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2004.York Woods At Yonkapin Cutoff LLC, which received $19,545 in rice, sorghum and soybean subsidies from 2002 to 2003.

Henry Kravis
Net worth: $4.7 billion
#95 on Forbes 400

M&T Chico Ranch, which received $511,633 in wheat, rice, corn, sorghum, sunflower, safflower, barley and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2005.M&T Staten Ranch, which received $502,363 in corn and wheat subsidies from 1996 to 2002.

Ann Walton Kroenke
Net worth: $4.7 billion
#95 on Forbes 400

JL Walton Trust, which received $13,273 in corn, wheat, sorghum, soybean and oat subsidies from 1996 to 2002.St. Roberts Centers & Farms, which received $6,642 in corn, wheat, sorghum and soybean subsidies from 1996 to 2002.$378 in corn and sorghum subsidies in 1995.

Leonard Lauder
Net worth: $7.6 billion
#56 on Forbes 400

Horizon Organic Dairy Idaho Farm, which received $360,102 in wheat, diary, barley, corn and other farm subsidies from 1997 to 2004.Horizon Organic Dairy Maryland Farm, which received $202,088 in dairy, corn, soybean, wheat and other farm subsidies from 1998 to 2005.

Nancy Walton Laurie
Net worth: $4 billion
#110 on Forbes 400

JL Walton Trust, which received $13,273 in corn, wheat, sorghum, soybean and oat subsidies from 1996 to 2002.St. Roberts Centers & Farms, which received $6,642 in corn, wheat, sorghum and soybean subsidies from 1996 to 2002.

Marianne Liebmann
Net worth: $2.6 billion
#209 on Forbes 400

Morse Land Co. Ltd., which received $4,282 in livestock, barley, oat, wheat and other farm subsidies from 2000 to 2005.

Whitney MacMillan
Net worth: $3.8 billion
#122 on Forbes 400

$25,226 in wheat and barley subsidies from 1996 to 1999.Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch LLC, which received $10,417 in wheat and barley subsidies from 2001 to 2003.

Neal Patterson
Net worth: $1.5 billion
#352 on Forbes 400

$51,911 in wheat and sorghum subsidies from 1995 to 2001.Southpoint Farms LLC, which received $66,770 in disaster payments, wheat, sorghum and other farm subsidies from 2002 to 2012.

Richard Peery
Net worth: $2.1 billion
#260 on Forbes 400

Peery & Arrillaga, which received $59,711 in wheat, sorghum, corn, barley, safflower and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2006.

Anthony Pritzker
Net worth: $3 billion
#166 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Daniel Pritzker
Net worth: $1.95 billion
#293 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Jay Robert Pritzker
Net worth: $3 billion
#166 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Jean (Gigi) Pritzker
Net worth: $2.1 billion
#260 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Jennifer Pritzker
Net worth: $1.7 billion
#327 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

John Pritzker
Net worth: $2 billion
#273 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Karen Pritzker
Net worth: $3.3 billion
#151 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Linda Pritzker
Net worth: $1.8 billion
#314 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Nicholas Pritzker, II.
Net worth: $1.35 billion
#382 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Penny Pritzker
Net worth: $2.2 billion
#252 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Thomas Pritzker
Net worth: $2.7 billion
#201 on Forbes 400

Chicago Mill & Lumber Co., which received $1,604,288 in cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, oat and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Stewart & Lynda Resnick
Net worth: $3.5 billion
#134 on Forbes 400

Paramount Land Co. LP, which received $576,603 in wheat, cotton, corn, sorghum and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2002.

David Rockefeller, Sr.
Net worth: $2.8 billion
#193 on Forbes 400

$563,715 in corn, soybean, wheat, oat, sorghum and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2006.

Robert Rowling
Net worth: $4.9 billion
#93 on Forbes 400

Rowling Ranch Corp., which received $157,427 in corn, sorghum and livestock subsidies from 2000 to 2008.

Fayez Sarofim
Net worth: $2 billion
#273 on Forbes 400

Holly Sugar Corp., which received $51,246 in wheat, corn, barley, sugar beet, oat and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003.FS Ranch Corporation, which received $67,125 in livestock subsidies in 2002.

Charles Schwab
Net worth: $5.1 billion
#88 on Forbes 400

$525,593 in rice and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003.

Walter Scott, Jr.
Net worth: $2.2 billion
#252 on Forbes 400

$62,031 in livestock subsidies in 2002.Double Eight Land Corp., which received $41,101 in livestock subsidies in 2002.

Harold Simmons
Net worth: $10 billion
#40 on Forbes 400

Dixie Rice Agriculture Corp., which received $677,300 in rice, sorghum and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003.Southwest Louisiana Land Co Inc., which received $272,511 in disaster payments, rice, soybean and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003.Contran Realty Corp., which received $17,754 in rice and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2003.Contran Corp., which received $2,960 in wheat subsidies from 1998 to 2000.

Warren Stephens
Net worth: $2.5 billion
#222 on Forbes 400

Stephens Group Incorporated, which received $146,260 in peanut, wheat, corn, oat, sorghum and other farm subsidies from 1996 to 2003.Greenbriar Lodge LLC, which received $86,642 in rice, soybean and wheat subsidies from 2002 to 2008.

Glen Taylor
Net worth: $1.7 billion
#327 on Forbes 400

Glen A. Taylor Revocable Trust, which received $832,970 in corn, soybean, wheat, oat and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2007.

Alice Walton
Net worth: $33.5 billion
#8 on Forbes 400

Robson Ranch Inc., which received $261,292 in crop disaster payments, wheat, soybean, corn and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2008.

Jim Walton
Net worth: $33.8 billion
#7 on Forbes 400

Robson Ranch Inc., which received $261,292 in crop disaster payments, wheat, soybean, corn and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2008.

S. Robson Walton
Net worth: $33.3 billion
#9 on Forbes 400

Robson Ranch Inc., which received $261,292 in crop disaster payments, wheat, soybean, corn and other farm subsidies from 1995 to 2008.

Leslie Wexner
Net worth: $5.7 billion
#73 on Forbes 400

LAW Plantation Co. LLC, which received $209,717 in wheat, corn, sorghum and oat subsidies from 1997 to 2003.The New Albany Co., which received $13 in farm subsidies in 1996.

Copyright © Environmental Working Group, http://www.ewg.org. Reprinted with permission.

2 comments
Smallokfarmer
Smallokfarmer

We farm in the neighboring county to Robson Ranch, (The Walton family ranch). In 2001 they received more money in subsidies than we made in profit. So when politicians say they are looking out for the family famer or small businessman we know who they are really talking about.

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

It is disgusting at the corporate and welfare for the rich. Notice that the Walton family members worth $34 billion each yet pay workers on average less than $10 and cut the company's healthcare contribution by half as many if not most  Walmart workers qualify from some form of fed assistance. the GOP are particularly galling in that they want to cut $60 billion from food stamps for needy people including 900,000 veterans. Many of these "farmers" do not even live on the farm. It is merely am investment with tax breaks and subsidies.