The announcement aroused little controversy. “I was surprised that it didn’t attract more attention,” says Joe Glauber, the USDA’s former chief economist, who’s now a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Glauber says it deserves more attention, for a whole collection of reasons.

For one thing, it’s an enormous amount of money, more than the final cost of bailing out the auto industry during the financial crisis of 2008. The auto industry bailout was fiercely debated in Congress. Yet the USDA created this new program out of thin air; it decided that an old law authorizing a USDA program called the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) already gave it the authority to spend this money.

“What’s unique about this is, [it] didn’t go through Congress,” Glauber says. Some people have raised questions about whether using the CCC for this new purpose is legal.