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SWEET Act would end the federal subsidy to the sugar industry

Published: August 18, 2019
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Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA10)

You may have a sweet tooth, especially around Halloween, but should taxpayers be subsidizing that craving?


Sugar subsidies (found in the Program section of the table on pg. 4 of 44) will cost taxpayers an estimated $126 million over the next decade, according to the most recent Congressional Budget Office estimates. This in turn raises sugar prices for American consumers, at potentially up to $4 billion annually according to some estimates.

The so-called “farm bill,” a giant piece of legislation affecting the agriculture industry, comes up for renewal every five years. In 2018, a House amendment to end the sugar subsidy failed by a 137–278 vote. Majorities in both parties opposed it, with Republicans opposed 96–132 and Democrats opposed 41–146.

What the bill does

The Saving Workers by Eliminating Economic Tampering Act (SWEET) Actwould end the federal government’s taxpayer-funded subsidy to the sugar industry.

It was introduced in the House on July 11 as bill number H.R. 3705, by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA10).

Perry is the representative for Hershey, Pennsylvania — home of Hershey’s chocolate company, one of the world’s biggest producers of the confection. Without sugar subsidies, major corporations like Hershey’s would likely still be able to shoulder the cost of production, in a way that many smaller companies could not.

All of the current cosponsors are Republicans from Pennsylvania.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill would lower prices for consumers and have all players in this space operating on a level playing field.

“South Central Pennsylvania is home to some of the largest food manufacturers in the country and they provide quality jobs to many in our region,” Rep. Perry said in a press release. “Unfortunately, production costs are being driven up through taxpayer subsidies, so consumers are being hit three times in the cost of everyday goods; that doesn’t reflect the benefits of our free market system.”

“In fact, it wastes taxpayer money, limits the jobs that companies are able to offer because they’re paying unnecessary costs, and ultimately, taxpayers are paying a markup on the final product they’ve already subsidized,” Rep. Perry continued. “That isn’t right.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the American sugar industry needs the subsidies to compete in the global marketplace, or otherwise they would almost all go out of business.

“They have to maintain their subsidies, they have to maintain import quotas, or else they will not survive. That’s what they’re fighting,” North Dakota State University agricultural economist Skip Taylor told MinnPost, citing Brazil and Mexico as two nations with far lower sugar prices. “That is the flat-out, rock bottom analysis.”

“A lot of sugar growers around the country, in Nebraska, Wyoming, California, they’ve all quit and have gone back to other crops because they’re not competitive,” Taylor said.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted three House cosponsors, all Republicans — although dozens of House Democrats also voted for the equivalent farm bill amendment last year. This bill awaits a potential vote in the House Agriculture Committee.

If the legislation was unable to achieve majority support from either party as a potential component of a must-pass bill, it’s even more unlikely to pass as standalone legislation.

This article was written by GovTrack Insider staff writer Jesse Rifkin.

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