The U.S. Department of Agriculture made farm subsidy payments to 28,613 dead farmers between 2011 and 2012, of which 1,799 were deemed “improper,” according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in June.
The report, entitled “USDA Needs to Do More to Prevent Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals,” said USDA’s Farm Service Agency identified “thousands of deceased individuals who were paid $3.3 million in improper payments after their dates of death, of which FSA has recovered approximately $1 million.”
GAO determined that about 6 percent of the total subsidy payments should not have been sent due to clerical errors or outright fraud.
An FSA spokesperson told CNSNews.com that most farm subsidy payments made by the USDA are based upon the farmer fulfilling his contractual obligation; for example, participating in a farmland conservation program. In the event of the farmer’s death, payments would be made to the farmer’s survivors or corporate successor.
“Improper payments” are those sent to individuals who had not properly filed documentation and who had subsequently died, or sent to relatives who had filled out the documentation and signed it on behalf of the farm’s now-deceased owner — something not permitted under FSA regulations. Most of those cases involve a legitimate error, the spokesman added, but some are fraudulent.
The FSA distributes $20 billion annually in farm subsidies to roughly 1 million individuals, averaging about $20,000 per person. Approximately $7.4 billion is spent on farm commodity and conservation programs; another $4 billion goes for financial and technical assistance; and $8.3 billion is spent to cover roughly 60 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premiums.
To prevent future subsidy payments to dead farmers, the GAO recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture implement procedures to match crop insurance records with the Social Security Administration’s master death file, ensure that all subsidy payments are “supported by documentation,” and review “each subsidy provided on behalf of a deceased individual to ensure that an improper subsidy was not made.”