George Boardman: LaMalfa, rice growers will get Christmas gifts early | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: LaMalfa, rice growers will get Christmas gifts early

George Boardman
Columnist

Rep. Doug LaMalfa and his rice-growing buddies will soon be getting their taxpayer-funded Christmas gift in the form of a farm bill that is coming up for a vote in Congress.

Nobody outside the House-Senate negotiators knows the exact contents of the bill, but everybody will be shocked if the measure contains anything resembling a reform of the subsidies that make corporate farmers wealthier while doing little for small, family farms.

The old bill expired in September, primarily because of a dispute over work requirements for food stamp recipients. But Senate and House negotiators announced Nov. 30 that they reached an agreement in principle to resolve their differences.

The details of the bill won't become public until the measure comes up for a vote, but observers like Kay Coles James, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, is confident the bill "will not rein in excessive farm subsidy programs."

"Though often called 'safety net' programs, most of the money is used primarily to help recipients meet revenue targets, not to deal with actual crop losses," James wrote in an opinion piece posted by The Hill website last Monday.

"This is not a safety net. It is a massive social welfare program. Despite myths to the contrary, this inappropriate corporate welfare goes primarily to wealthy large agriculture producers, not to small family farms."

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Unless you know somebody who farms corn, cotton, peanuts, rice, soybeans or wheat, you're not likely to know a farmer who collects subsidies. These six crops account for 94 percent of farm-support programs even though they account for just 28 percent of farm receipts, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Just 9 percent of California farmers collect subsidies, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but those select few "farmers" raked in $12.2 billion in subsidies from 1995 through 2017, according to numbers compiled by the Environmental Working Group.

Rice farmers were second only to cotton growers when it came to collecting subsidies in California, harvesting $2.7 billion in subsidies during the 22-year period. Rice farmers in LaMalfa's 1st congressional district collected over $636 million during the period, while constituents of Rep. Tom McClintock received over $39 million.

The LaMalfa Family Partnership ranked 23rd among California rice farmers during that period, collecting $5,294,095, according to EWG. LaMalfa, who owns 33 percent of the partnership, has collected more subsidy money than any other current member of Congress, according to EWG.

The new farm bill may allow the lucky few to spread the wealth. James suspects the measure will contain a House-sponsored provision that will widen a loophole that allows more family members not in farming to receive subsidies, specifically cousins, nephews, and nieces. That's another reason James thinks the new bill is "locking in bad policy for the next five years."

I'm just a lineman …

The people who run PG&E, the utility everybody loves to hate, have been catching it from all sides recently. Whether it's investors, regulators, Cal Fire or litigators looking for a big payday, the company's top brass are being pummeled repeatedly for real and imagined shortcomings.

But at least the company's heavies are safely ensconced at corporate headquarters in San Francisco, where they don't have to face their hostile retail customers. Not so the linemen and other workers in the field whose job it is to make sure you get your gas and electricity, whether you live at the Oregon border or near Bakersfield.

There have been several instances recently where harassment of PG&E crews has been bad enough to require police protection. Several crews trying to restore power after the Camp Fire were greeted by hostile residents, and had to call the sheriff's office for protection.

Crews trying to restore service in the Todd Valley area of Foresthill after PG&E recently cut off the power during a period of extreme fire danger were greeted by insults and hurled objects as they checked the lines for damage.

"Some angry residents … started yelling at them and throwing objects at their trucks," said Lt. Andrew Scott of the Placer County Sheriff's Office. "It was mostly anger that the power had been shut off and it was taking a while to restore."

Crews left the area before things escalated and came back the next day with a deputy escorting them to finish the inspection and restore power. This kept the residents in the dark and without power for a day longer than necessary.

All of this is foolish behavior by people who have a right to be upset. I've known some PG&E crew members over the years and I know they take great pride in the work they do, particularly in dangerous winter conditions. They don't deserve the abuse they're getting because the company's leaders put profits ahead of safety and service.

If you want to take your anger out on PG&E, buy a share of stock, attend the annual meeting, and tell the corporate executives what you think of them. File complaints with the state Public Utilities Commission and show up at hearings when the utility is on the agenda. Let your state legislators know they'll pay a price if they let the company's lobbyists buy them off.

But leave the crew members alone. They deserve your thanks, not your hostility.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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