The federal government is still paying out millions of dollars a year in subsidies to dead farmers, according to a government audit released Monday that said the Agriculture Department doesn't do the routine checks required to make sure it is paying benefits to the right people.
The Government Accountability Office said one agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, made $10.6 million payments from 2008 to 2012 on behalf of more than 1,100 people who had been dead at least a year. Another arm of the department, the Risk Management Agency, paid out $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who had been dead at least two years.
Some of the payments may have been legal because they were for work completed before the farmers died, but the GAO said the problem is that the two agencies don't perform routine checks — such as looking at the Social Security lists — to verify their information.
"Until and unless NRCS and RMA develop and implement procedures to have their payment or subsidy data records matched against SSA's complete death master file, either through coordination with FSA or on their own, these agencies cannot know if they are providing payments to, or subsidies on behalf of, deceased individuals; how often they are providing such payments or subsidies; or in what amounts," the investigators wrote.
The GAO said the Agriculture Department has shown some progress since a previous audit found hundreds of payments to 172,801 dead claimants, totaling some $1.1 billion, between 1999 and 2005.
The current rate of potentially bad payments is slim compared with the overall budget for subsidies, which runs to about $20 billion a year.
In its official response to the audit, the Agriculture Department said it does have some procedures in place to determine whether the beneficiaries with whom they are dealing are still breathing.
But the department acknowledged its procedures "were not effectively and consistently implemented to identify deceased individuals."
Near the end of the GAO's yearlong audit, the Agriculture Department signed an agreement to begin to get the Social Security Administration's death master file so it could begin checking names of those it is paying.
The report was released as the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate remained at loggerheads over a rewrite of the $1 trillion law covering support payments to farmers, crop insurance and the food stamp program for low-income Americans.
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