“No one will ever break the cycle of poverty by relying on the government for a handout,” Congressman Ralph Abraham told the Houma Courier in May of 2018.

At the time, Abraham, who represents the tenth most impoverished district in the country, had been pitching- unsuccessfully- a dramatic expansion of work requirements for recipients of food assistance. He’d hoped to add the requirement to the new, five-year federal Farm Bill, and even though he likely understood his proposal had little chance of passing in the Senate, it was perfectly-cooked red meat for the Republican base.

More than 55,000 households in Abraham’s district, Louisiana’s Fifth, depend on food assistance. All told, those families account for 21% of the district’s population. A study by Mathematica Policy Research estimated that the expanded work requirement would have resulted in more than 1.1 million Americans losing food assistance, and an analysis by the nonpartisan Louisiana Budget Project concluded the proposal could have taken “food off the table for as many as 155,000 Louisiana families and (saddled) Louisiana taxpayers with millions of dollars in new, bureaucratic mandates that state government cannot afford.”

“I don’t want anybody in America to be hungry,” Abraham said. “But at the same time, those that are gaming the system and those that can work that are not working, they need to go to work.”

Since April 1st, as he campaigns for governor, Abraham, who is paid $174,000 a year as a congressman, has missed a staggering 70% of his votes, dramatically more than anyone else, including the nearly dozen members currently running for president.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham

Despite his public attempts to restrict federal food assistance, Ralph Abraham and his immediate family members have received more than $2.6 million in federal farm subsidies, according to an extensive review of public records conducted by the Bayou Brief.

Approximately half of those subsidies were from the USDA’s conservation program, provided to incentivize farmers not to farm certain crops.

Abraham, a multi-millionaire, is the owner, registered agent, and registered manager of Abraham Farms, LLC, 2,300 acres of corn and soybeans located directly across from the congressman’s front porch in Richland Parish.

On his most recent financial disclosure report, Abraham estimates his ownership interest in the farm to be worth as much as $5 million. However, his son-in-law, Dustin Morris, runs the day-to-day operations.

Bayou Brief readers may recognize his name: Dustin Morris was the plaintiff that Abraham Farms individually named in their lawsuit against an oil and gas pipeline company they accused of damaging their land.

We identified a total of seven different entities and individuals directly affiliated with Abraham Farms, including the congressman, his son-in-law, his daughter, and his daughter-in-law, who received federal farm subsidies between 1995-2017 (the most recent year currently available).

All told, the Abraham family took in $2,609,909.

Total federal farm subsidies received by individuals and entities affiliated with Abraham Farms, 1995-2017. Chart by the Bayou Brief.

The congressman may not be much of a farmer himself, but his son-in-law comes from a family who has farmed in Richland Parish for four generations. From 2008 through 2017, the Morris family separately received at least $1.4 million in federal farm subsidies.

Ashley Abraham Morris and Dustin Morris. Credit: Gannett.

Farm subsidies have been a part of American life for more than 157 years. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law. Small farmers, including free people of color, who wished to go west and start a new life could claim 160 acres from the government. All told, 1.6 million Americans took advantage of the program, and in so doing, they took a total of 420,000 square miles from the government, representing nearly 10% of all government-owned land. The final claim under the Homestead Act was made in 1988, when the federal government turned over 80 acres in Alaska.

Today, although the Homestead Act finally ran out of land to give away, there are at least eight different federal subsidies and programs available for farmers.

“It was never the intent of Congress to create a new class of millionaires through federal farm subsidies,” writes Adam Andrzejewski, the founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.org, in Forbes.

Yet that is exactly what has happened.

Currently, farm subsidies are disproportionately doled out to millionaires like Congressman Abraham, and like many beneficiaries, Abraham claims to be the owner of a quaint family farm.

Most Americans mistakenly believe that farm subsidies are provided to the struggling small family farm. The truth, however, is that “family farms” account for 99% of the nation’s 2.1 million farms, and while it’s undeniable that hundreds of thousands of farmers have to work hard to make ends meet, they’re not the ones being propped up by the government. In fact, 90% of farms worth more than $1 million are family-owned, and those farms, like Abraham Farms in Richland Parish, are the primary recipients of government subsidies.

“Despite the rhetoric of ‘preserving the family farm,’ the vast majority of farmers do not benefit from federal farm subsidy programs and most of the subsidies go to the largest and most financially secure farm operations,” reports the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that extensively tracks farm subsidy recipients.

Farm subsidies are one of those rare issues in which conservative intellectuals and liberal intellectuals find common ground. This is from the Heritage Foundation, the nation’s most influential conservative think tank:

Abraham Farms qualifies as a midsize or large family farm.

“Welfare pays more than the minimum wage in 35 states,” Ralph Abraham once told the Richland Beacon-News. “So, there is no incentive to work.” And no, he was not arguing in favor of increasing the minimum wage.

Last year, after it became clear that his proposal for expanded work requirements was doomed to fail, Rep. Abraham, the owner of a large corn and soybean farm, found another cause to champion: Subsidies for soybean farmers.

“Abraham introduces bill to help Louisiana soybean farmers,” he announced last November.

As a consequence of President Donald Trump’s erratic trade policy with China, the USDA decided to provide support for American soybean farmers who could no longer sell their harvest. Abraham sought to carve out a special exception for Louisiana soybean farmers who planted but hadn’t actually harvested a crop. It didn’t matter to him that these farmers hadn’t done the work. They were unwitting victims of unfair federal policy— policy, by the way, that Abraham had actually supported.

“Louisiana soybean farmers cannot be left out of the (Market Facilitation Program). The problem they are facing is not of their making, and they should not be forced to bear the heaviest burden caused by market disruptions,” he said. “The USDA told our soybean farmers that it would have their backs during these trade negotiations, and this bill ensures that the USDA will be able to honor that commitment. Congress should do the right thing by these hard-working farmers and pass this bill.”

After the bill was tabled last year, he reintroduced the legislation in February. Since then, though, he appears to have given up working on it.

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar White, Jr. is an award-winning writer and the publisher and founder of the Bayou Brief, Louisiana’s only statewide news and culture publication. Born and raised on the banks of the Red River in Alexandria, he is a proud product of the Louisiana public education system and a graduate of Rice University in Houston and SMU’s Dedman School of Law in Dallas. Lamar has been writing about politics and public policy in Louisiana for twenty years, beginning as a weekly youth columnist for his hometown paper, the Town Talk. After earning his undergraduate degree in English and Religious Studies, Lamar moved back to Alexandria, where he launched a popular blogsite, CenLamar, and worked for five years as the Special Assistant to the Mayor. He exposed significant problems with Louisiana’s school voucher program, which resulted in a series of other investigations and ultimately in the removal of several schools from the program. He was the last person to argue online with Andrew Breitbart. He investigated and then broke the report that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise had once attended a white supremacist conference. He was the first to share a photograph of Bobby Jindal’s portrait in the state Capitol. He exposed U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s incomplete timesheets while the then-representative moonlighted as a physician. He earned headlines in Texas after the gubernatorial campaign of Greg Abbott falsely claimed he had been exploited as a “campaign prop” by Abbott’s opponent, Wendy Davis, and after exposing U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign for relying on online “bot farms” to counter Beto O’Rourke, and he earned headlines in Mississippi after publishing videos of U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith making bizarre comments about public hangings and voter suppression tactics which were both perceived as racist. Lamar was the recipient of the 2011 Ashley Morris Award, given to the writer who best exemplifies the spirit of New Orleans, and in 2019, he was honored as one of Gambit’s Top 40 Under 40 and as the year’s Outstanding Millennial in Journalism at the annual Millennial Awards. He has been the subject of profiles in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Above the Law, and the Advocate and has appeared multiple times as a guest on CNN and MSNBC. Lamar currently lives in New Orleans with his two golden retrievers, Lucy Ana and Ruby Dog.