Scottie Pippen and Paul Allen are farmers?

Environmental Working Group website

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Scottie Pippen spent 17 years playing professional basketball to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Lee Bass made his billions in the Texas oil fields. Paul Allen is number six on the Forbes list of the world's richest people. And yet, each of them got checks from the federal farm subsidy program last year.

A report out today from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group tracks billions of dollars in subsidies for the past three years. And Marketplace's Steve Henn reports the disclosures are already affecting debate over the next Farm Bill.


Steve Henn: No one in America is supposed to receive more than $360,000 a year in farm subsidies. But that didn't stop Maurice Wilder from netting more than $1.8 million bucks in 2005 alone.

And the thing is, Wilder doesn't need the cash.

Ken Cook is president of the Environmental Working Group:

Ken Cook: Why on Earth are we making payments in the name of saving the family farm to someone who's worth [$400 million] or $500 million?

Today, Cook's group unveiled a new online database that for the first time, fully reveals all the people who benefit from the farm subsidy program.

Cook: Maurice Wilder is the largest individual beneficiary of farm subsidy programs in the last three years.

Since 2003, the Feds paid Wilder more than $3.3 million in farm subsidies.

Cook would like Congress to close the loopholes that made that possible — and impose a strict means test that would prevent folks who make more than $250,000 a year from receiving any subsidy.

Lobbyist and former chair of the House Ag Committee Charlie Stenholm:

Charlie Stenholm: It would be naïve on the part of anyone to believe that we're going to maintain the status quo regarding subsidies — who gets them, how they're paid and how they fit into the overall agricultural policy of our country.

Pressure's mounting to trim farm subsidies, but Stenholm doesn't want to end subsidies altogether. And he's leery of strict means testing that he says could hurt real farmers — and make food more expensive for consumers.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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