Farm Pork Even After Death

Federal farm subsidies are a cash cow for the more than one million Americans who collect about $20 billion in farm-income support, disaster assistance, and crop-insurance discounts paid each year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With that kind of money floating around, one might be tempted to assume that effective controls to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse had been perfected long ago. But such wishful thinking ignores the ineptitude of bureaucracy and the enormous effort that some recipients of government pork are willing to undertake in order to procure payments they are not eligible to collect.

Moreover, a new report suggests that farm subsides are a bumper crop for some ineligible recipients who don’t even lift a finger to collect them: dead people.

The report, published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), is entitled “USDA Needs to Do More to Prevent Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals” (GAO-13-503). Here’s what it reveals:

  • Since 2007, the Farm Service Agency has identified $3.3 million in improper income-support and disaster-assistance payments to deceased individuals. The agency has recovered about $1 million of that sum. However, the unrecovered amount of ineligible payments probably exceeds agency estimates, because the GAO found that 9 percent of the agency’s records of eligible payments were coded improperly.
  • From Fiscal Year 2008 to April 2012, the National Resources Conservation Service “made $10.6 million payments on behalf of 1,103 deceased individuals 1 year or more after their death,” the GAO report says. Even more alarming is that the conservation agency fails to track which payments are made to deceased individuals.
  • From 2008 to 2012, the Risk Management Agency provided $22 million in crop-insurance subsidies and allowances on behalf of an estimated 3,434 deceased policyholders for two or more years after death. As with the National Resources Conservation Service, it is not known how much of the payments are “improper” because the agency does not follow standard federal procedures to prevent ineligible payments to deceased individuals.

Evidently, a visit from the Grim Reaper isn’t enough to ensure that one reaps only what one sows.

Carl P. Close is a Research Fellow and former Executive Editor for Acquisitions and Content at the Independent Institute and former Assistant Editor of The Independent Review.
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