This Valentine’s Day, consumers will spend an average of $136.57 on gifts and sweets for that special someone. For these millions of love struck candy consumers, a few extra dollars in their pockets would make it an even sweeter time of year. Yet the heartbreaking truth is that the cost of purchasing that box of chocolates or candy hearts this year is artificially high thanks to the not so sweet U.S. Sugar Program.

The U.S. Sugar Program is a relic of the Great Depression, and since its inception in 1934 the program has mutated into a crony capitalistic monster, with U.S. taxpayers, consumers, and manufacturers footing the bill for this costly and backwards program.

The Sugar Program is the antithesis of free-market policy as it provides a plethora of sweetheart deals to a small handful of big sugar producers, including generous taxpayer backed subsidies, price floors, and import quotas. As a result of these sweetheart deals for Big Sugar, taxpayer costs have gone up, jobs have been destroyed, and American consumers have received only heartburn from increased prices.

Survival of the Sugar Program is a result of the sweet subsidized life support taxpayers serve up every year. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the U.S. Sugar Program will cost taxpayers more than $138 million over the next 10 years in addition to the billions in annual hidden taxes American consumers pay at the grocery store.

In addition to taxpayer costs, such protectionist policies have created artificially high domestic sugar prices for consumers. In August of 2015, U.S. sugar prices were ¢33.13 per pound, more than double the world price of ¢15.57. It is estimated American families pay an average of $125, or a total of $2 billion, in higher grocery prices and taxes annually because of the program. While artificially high prices and restricted competition bode well for producers, domestic manufacturers alternatively have been discarded like an empty candy wrapper.

Domestic sugar-using manufacturers competing globally, but purchasing domestic sugar at a rate roughly twice that of the global price, are dealt a severe disadvantage and have had to either cuts jobs or move their business abroad. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that for every one sugar-growing job saved by the Sugar Program, approximately three manufacturing jobs are lost. Over a 13-year period, domestic sugar-using industries have seen a 17 percent decline in employment, amounting to an annual loss of nearly 10,000 jobs in the U.S. food industry.

When it comes to winners in this sticky situation, it is not American consumers but a handful of domestic sugar producers,- unless you also count international competitors. Where the American consumer and manufacturer have suffered, less than 4,500 producers have prospered. To put it simply, the U.S. Sugar Program is forcing American consumers and taxpayers to pay artificially higher prices for sugar and sugar related products in order to subsidize and protect a small number of sugar producers from free-market competition.   

It has been almost a century since the great depression, and it is high time Congress reforms this rotten relic. As the 115th Congress begins discussions over the coming 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers should look to trim the unnecessary fat that is the U.S. Sugar Program. Doing so will not only protect the 600,000 U.S. jobs in food industries that use sugar, but will reduce the harm to taxpayers and give consumers a much needed break on Valentine’s Day for years to come.

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