South Carolina farmers who have struggled amid President Donald Trump’s trade war with China are receiving relief — thanks to a Trump administration program.
From September 2018 to May 2019, more than 1,500 South Carolina farmers split more than $24 million in aid, according to data obtained by the Associated Press and analyzed by The State.
Most of the aid went to farmers in the Palmetto State’s Pee Dee region, but Orangeburg County farmers received the most federal dollars of any other county, totaling more than $2.6 million.
The Trump administration is in ongoing talks with China to negotiate better trade deals for the United States. As part of the White House’s hardline approach, it has imposed tariffs on certain imported Chinese goods. The Chinese government has retaliated by slapping tariffs on certain U.S. agricultural imports — and, as expected, American farmers have felt the pain.
Facing pressure to help farmers without appearing weak in the international community, Trump last year authorized a payout of $12 billion to those affected by the retaliatory tariffs. This month, the administration announced the details of an additional $16 billion farm aid package, $14.5 billion of which will take the form of direct payments to producers of certain crops.
In South Carolina, according to the Associated Press data, money went to farmers whose crops include corn, cotton, dairy, hogs, sorghum, soybeans and wheat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is securing this money from the U.S. Treasury through the Commodity Credit Corporation, a Depression-era program that helps support American farmers by buying their crops.
Meanwhile, Trump has proposed another plan to help farmers: The federal government can use the money collected in Chinese tariff revenues to buy American crops, then send them to starving communities in foreign countries.
“Our Farmers will do better, faster, and starving nations can now be helped,” Trump tweeted in May.
But the plan, which has not become a serious proposal, would not be much help to S.C. farmers, who largely produce corn and soybeans used in animal food, S.C. Farm Bureau official Stephanie Sox told The State when Trump proposed the idea.
Trump has also said China will eventually repay the federal government, through tariffs, for these payments to farmers.
While it’s true the U.S. Treasury is taking in billions of dollars in tariff revenues, the federal government can’t actually receive direct revenue from tariff payments currently being paid by U.S. importers.
Ultimately, it is still an open question who will pay the bulk of the bailout money when all is said and done: the Chinese or American taxpayers.
Where the money’s going
The relief program is being widely billed as a federal “bailout.” Fiscal conservatives typically oppose such programs.
In this case, however, Republican supporters of Trump have been largely reluctant to criticize the president.
This has been true for the Republicans in the S.C. congressional delegation who represent beleaguered agriculture sectors.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, a Myrtle Beach Republican, was told told by The State that his district had one of the highest concentrations of aid in South Carolina — Over $7 million spread out among roughly 557 farmers in the counties Rice represents in part or in whole.
Rice said the money was making a difference and support for Trump’s tactics among his constituents was strong.
“Thirty years ago we could afford to enter into one sided trade deals, but our trading partners will not simply concede their advantages for fair trade agreements,” Rice said in a statement, adding, “President Trump is bringing them to the table and every farmer I’ve talked to is supportive of his head-on approach to finally level the playing field.”
“They understand the President’s end goal is fair trade that will expand agriculture exports and increase their customer base and in the meantime, this funding will help ease any short-term pain,” Rice continued.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, a Rock Hill Republican who has over 80 farmers across his district receiving a total of $1.7 million, also supported Trump’s strategy.
“(China) will continue to abuse our markets and industries until they realize we’re serious about putting an end to it. That’s the message President Trump is sending with these tariffs, and I support his efforts,” said Norman. “China must realize it’s in their best interest to address these problems and return to being an honorable trading partner. Yes, there will be a some pain during this process, and I am sympathetic to farmers and others who are caught in the middle.”
South Carolina Democrats are being less diplomatic.
“I am hearing from my constituents that they are much more interested in fair trade than they are in government aid. They want to compete in the marketplace but the tariffs are making it hard to do so,” said Jim Clyburn, the third ranking U.S. House Democrat.
Clyburn’s district includes the majority of Orangeburg County, which had the highest single concentration of federal assistance out of any other county in the state: Over $2.6 million spread out among 155 farmers.
In total, among the other counties Clyburn represents in part or in whole, nearly 669 farmers collectively received over $11 million.
Who’s receiving help from the Trump administration? Check out our database of farms awarded money under the Market Facilitation Program in the last year.
This databases contains all payouts to South Carolina farmers as part of the Market Facilitation Program, which was provided to The State by the Associated Press.
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How old is the data and where does it come from? The State was provided with the data by the Associated Press in July 2019.