Millions in farm subsidies doled out to dead US farmers
Federal auditors who poured through the USDA’s crop insurance,
disaster assistance and conservation programs have found that
$36.6 million were disbursed to deceased recipients, according to
the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The GAO report points to the biggest offender as the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, which disburses crop insurance, as having issued $22 million in subsidies one or two years after a recipient’s death.
The report has been released ahead of meetings in the House and Senate to hammer out a farm bill that may expand subsidies like crop insurance, and casts doubts on the Agriculture Department’s ability to weed out waste, fraud and abuse.
The GAO itself states that findings "may call into question whether these farm safety net programs are benefiting the agricultural sector as intended."
Though the funds improperly doled out to the deceased farmers represent a fraction of the $20 billion in annual federal subsidies for farm incomes, as the Los Angeles Times reports, the report also comes at a critical juncture for Congress as both parties spar over the total cost of a pending $1 trillion farm bill. And if segments such as crop insurance do increase as expected, then the USDA’s inability to detect waste or fraud may only increase accordingly.
For its part, the department of agriculture is not disputing the GAO’s findings, though it has taken exception to claims that it did not have sufficient controls in place to detect improper payments, according to the New York Times.
Environmental activists, who oppose federal subsidies that, for example, encourage an artificially inflated production of corn - with implications into the popularity of GMO crops and the widespread use of high-fructose corn syrup - point to government waste as indicating a need for reforms.
“Not only are unlimited crop
insurance subsidies flowing to the largest and most successful
farm businesses, they are now going to deceased
policyholders,” said Scott Faber, vice president of the
Environmental Working Group in a statement issued Monday.
“At a time when some lawmakers want to cut off funding for the hungriest children, we find out today the federal government has spent $22 million over four years to lavish insurance subsidies to individuals who are no longer alive,” added Faber.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) opposes what it deems “bloated” farm subsidies that produce ultimately harmful incentives to plow up wetlands, grasslands and marginal lands, or place any emphasis on soil health. As RT recently reported, corn subsidies combined with a growing deficiency in GMO corn has resulted in greater use of pesticides.
According to a recent report published by the journal Food Policy cited by EWG US farm subsidies ultimately “have negligible impact on the prices paid by consumers for food. EWG cites other evidence that even the total elimination of US farm programs “would have a very modest effect on farm prices and production” of subsidized crops such as corn and wheat.
Though the debate over whether the currently gargantuan sum doled out by the federal government in the form of the farm bill is fair is ongoing, this latest disclosure of funds making their way to deceased individuals only provides more ammunition to critics of government waste.
Both EWG and a slew of advocacy organizations that are concerned over everything from GMOs to pesticide use argue that crop insurance programs in particular have been transformed from their original intent, which was to compensate farmers from weather-caused crop losses, to a virtual guarantee of farm income.
GAO auditors are now suggesting that the USDA implement use of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to identify payments made to dead individuals. According to the GAO, agencies under the department of agriculture are currently utilizing an incomplete version of that data, and thus failing to identify deceased recipients.