U.S. congressional watchdog launches probe into subsidy to farmers amid trade war

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) — The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), known as the congressional watchdog, is opening an investigation into the integrity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aid to farmers affected by the Trump administration’s trade policies, a senior lawmaker said on Tuesday.

“It’s clear that the Trump administration’s trade assistance payments pick winners and losers rather than help the farmers who have been hit the hardest by this President’s trade policies,” Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.

“This investigation will shed more light on what has been happening, and bring accountability and fairness to a program that has spent billions of taxpayer dollars,” she said.

The probe came after Stabenow last month requested a comprehensive GAO investigation of the trade assistance program. In a report released in November, the Democratic senator expressed concerns that the Trump administration distributed trade aid unevenly across the country, benefiting regions and farms that have experienced less trade damage.

The investigation opened by the GAO will examine whether the model USDA used to distribute payments has accurately reflected trade damages felt by farmers and whether USDA is effectively preventing fraud, waste and abuse in the program, according to Stabenow.

The USDA offered 12 billion U.S. dollars to help farmers who had been hit hard by the trade war in 2018 and unveiled an additional 16-billion-dollar trade aid package in 2019.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said last month that there is no need for a third year of trade-related aid for farmers after the United States and China signed the phase-one economic and trade agreement.

“This agreement will help turn around two years of declining agricultural exports. The potential of tens of billions more in exports is welcome news for farmers who are eager to compete on a more level playing field,” echoed American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. Enditem

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