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Millions in farm subsidies doled out to dead US farmers

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Millions of dollars have gone to farmers years after their death as part of various farm safety net programs under the US Department of Agriculture, according to a recent government audit.

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.

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