Rep. Neal’s Support for Sugar Program Makes Him a Special Interest Sweetheart

Unlike the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, no sugar beets are grown in Massachusetts. And neither do we grow sugarcane like the states of Florida and Louisiana. But during his years in Congress, Rep. Neal has had no problem voting to maintain a costly government sugar program that benefits a handful of giant sugar processors and less than 6,000 farmers.

First enacted 84 years ago, the U.S. sugar program uses import quotas, marketing allotments, price supports and tariffs to artificially raise the price of sugar. One think tank called the program a classic government-created cartel.

Rep. Neal has decided that siding with the sugar lobby can pay off for him with sweet donations of campaign contributions from the industry. During consideration of the fiscal year 1999 Agriculture Appropriations bill, Neal voted against and helped kill an amendment to cut sugar price supports by one cent per pound to 17 cents for cane sugar and 21.9 cents for beet sugar. 

During debate on the 2001 Farm Bill, Rep. Neal opposed an amendment that would have reduced the sugar loan rates loan rates by 1 cent, increased the forfeiture penalty by 1 cent per pound, and authorized up to $300 million in resulting savings for conservation and environmental stewardship programs, with a priority for Everglades restoration.

And in 2005, when the House considered the fiscal year 2006 Agriculture Department spending bill, Rep. Neal voted against an amendment that would have barred use of funds in the bill for salaries or expenses of personnel who make loans in excess of 17 cents per pound for domestically grown raw sugar cane or 21.6 cents per pound for refined beet sugar from domestically grown beets. Six of the 10-member Massachusetts House delegation voted yes.

Rep. Neal also voted against an amendment to strike the sugar sections in the commodity title from the 2007 Farm Bill which helped keep in place a 10-year subsidy plan that raised support prices by half a cent per pound and guaranteed American sugar producers at least an 85 percent share of the domestic market through 2012. Estimates by the Government Accountability Office show the sugar price program from the 2007 Farm Bill, cost food manufacturers and consumers between $1 billion and $2 billion per year in higher prices for the sweetener and all of the products that contain it as an ingredient. Current costs for small businesses and consumers by the American Enterprise Institute peg the sugar program at between $2.4 and $4 billion annually. 

More recently, Rep. Neal voted against an amendment that directed the secretary of agriculture to lower loan rates for domestic sugar cane producers to 18 cents per pound for raw cane sugar for each crop year 2014 through 2018. It would have required the secretary to revise trade tariffs to lower the sugar stocks-to-use ratio to 15.5 percent. USDA would be required to administer marketing allotments to ensure sugar supplies, be authorized to suspend or modify any marketing allotment provision and be required to exercise discretion in administering the import quota to provide for adequate sugar supplies at “reasonable prices.” It would also repeal the sugar-to-ethanol program.

Rep. Neal also voted against a resolution that would express the sense of the House that 2013 House farm bill conferees should propose repeal of provisions of the 2008 farm programs law dealing with tariffs in the federal sugar support program, in order to restore the agriculture secretary’s authority to manage supplies of sugar throughout the marketing year to meet domestic demand at reasonable prices.

During debate on the 2018 Farm Bill, Neal voted against an amendment to begin dismantling the sugar support program, eliminating production limits for U.S. growers and opening the door for more imports. It would also have ended a USDA program that buys up surplus sugar from domestic growers and resells it to bioenergy producers.

Here in Massachusetts, approximately 13,400 jobs are generated among the 436 establishments that produce breads and bakery products, chocolate and chocolate confectionary manufacturing, ice cream and frozen desserts, snack foods, breakfast cereals, soft drinks and other products. The U.S. Census Bureau says that our current sugar program has killed some 123,000 jobs between 1997 and 2015 and the Department of Commerce estimates that for every sugar-producing job protected through high U.S. sugar process, about three manufacturing jobs are lost.

These lost jobs don’t seem to bother Rep. Neal who has fattened his campaign war chest on sugar industry cash. Between 2000 and 2014, Neal pulled down $16,000 in PAC checks from seven groups like American Crystal Sugar Co., a Minnesota-based sugar beet cooperative and the Florida Sugar Cane League, which represents large sugar conglomerates such as Florida Crystals and the U.S. Sugar Corporation (see graphic below).

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