NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 23, 2007

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers and routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made, according to a government report.

In a selection of 181 cases from 1999 to 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time:

  • The report cited a 1,900-acre soybean and corn farm in Illinois that collected $400,000 on behalf of an owner who lived in Florida before his death in 1995.
  • The company did not notify the government of the death but certified each year that the dead shareholder, who owned 40 percent of the company, was "actively engaged" in managing the farm.
  • An Indiana corporation that was owned entirely by one person never notified the government of the owner's death in 1993 and continued to collect unspecified payments for a decade before new owners filed for farm benefits.
  • The government made $567,000 in payments to an Alabama estate over seven years on behalf of an owner who died in 1981.
  • Another estate continued to receive unspecified payments on behalf of a person who died in 1973 -- more than three decades ago -- without any investigation or review.

Most estates are allowed to collect farm payments for up to two years after an owner's death, giving heirs time to restructure their businesses and probate the will.  After that, local USDA officials must certify every year that the estate is still farming and has remained open for reasons other than simply collecting subsidies.

But the GAO report found that the Agriculture Department depends on heirs and businesses to alert the agency to deaths and does not use other sources, such as Social Security records, to confirm eligibility. 

Source: Sarah Cohen, "Deceased Farmers Got USDA Payments; Study Faults Lack Of Case Reviews," Washington Post, July 23, 2007.

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