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The United States of drought

California's drought just hit a new milestone: As of this week, 32.98 percent of the state is experiencing "exceptional" drought, making it the worst drought in the 14 years that the Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor has tracked data.

There has been a lot of discussion online about what this means economically. California is a center of American agriculture, and there is a wide expectation that the drought will mean increased food prices.

But drought doesn't only cost consumers money. Drought also costs the government in the form of the Farm Service Agency's Disaster Assistance Programs. Curious about the link between drought and those costs, we decided to compare levels of drought since 2000 with FSA payments.

In 2010, the Government Accountability Office tallied FSA payments by state between 2001 and 2007. They're broken out in the maps at the bottom of this article. But it's worth comparing those maps with this animation we created, showing how drought has swept across the country over time. The darker the splotches on the maps (all of which come from the Drought Monitor), the more severe the drought.


For the most part, no matter where the drought was, the states that received the most crop disaster program payments were the same. Which suggests that there may not be a strong link between the level of drought and how much the government pays out.

California is already seeing an exceptional drought. The odds are pretty good that we'll see an exceptional cost as well.

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Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.

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