I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that — for all of the recent ado about finally decoupling the usually omnibus farm bill into the two separate, more accessible issues of food stamps and agriculture ‘policy’ — what we’re might end up with is some kind of last-minute stopgap extension of the current farm bill, which is supposed to expire at the end of September.
Congress still has plenty to duke out on both issues; the Democrats are refusing to stand for any substantive cuts to the national food-stamp program (the enrollment for which has grown by 70 percent since 2008, by the way), and while House Republicans actually did succeed in finally decoupling the issues, they ended up cutting hardly a dang thing from what is mostly millions of dollars a year in corporate pork for agribusiness in rural states and are still trying to figure out what they want to do with food stamps. They need both their agriculture bill and a food-stamp bill to send into conference with the Senate’s version, and there aren’t that many workdays left before the September deadline with the August recess coming up.
While we wait for Congress to figure out what they want to do, however, here’s one small example of the type of fraud, waste, and abuse that our ‘agriculture policy’ makes available that is very likely to be preserved under any version of the farm bill currently likely to survive. A new federal audit found that the government is still paying out millions of dollars a year to dead farmers because the Agriculture Department neglects to do routine checks required to make sure it is paying benefits to the right people. Perfect, via the Washington Times:
The Government Accountability Office said that from 2008 to 2012 one agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, made $10.6 million payments on behalf of more than 1,100 people who’d been dead at least a year. Another branch, the Risk Management Agency, paid out $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who’d been dead at least two years.
Some of the payments may have been legal because they were for work done before the farmers died, but GAO said the problem is the two agencies don’t perform the routine checks — such as looking at the Social Security lists — to see.
“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 good news, however, is that the federal government has managed to improve upon their record between 1999 and 2005, during which time a previous GAO audit found that they paid over a billion dollars out to more than 170,000 people — progress!