6,336 Zombie Farmers Got a $36 M Government Payout
Policy + Politics

6,336 Zombie Farmers Got a $36 M Government Payout

REUTERS/AMC/The Fiscal Times

Thousands of dead farmers were awarded more than $36 million in subsidies from the Agriculture Department in the last four years, according to a government watchdog agency.

In the bone-chilling report published this week, “USDA Needs to Do More to Prevent Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals" the Government Accountability Office said between 2008 and 2012 at least 6,336 dead Americans received millions in farm subsidies from three different agencies.

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You can’t make this stuff up.

GAO official Daniel Garcia-Diaz actually said during on a Monday podcast, "Over the course of time, farmers who are enrolled in these programs may pass away. If nobody notifies USDA or the agency doesn’t have any particular steps to identify deceased farmers, it’s possible that payments or other benefits may accrue to deceased individuals.”

So much for verification.

The three agencies include the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and, ironically, the Risk Management Agency (RMA).

Of the three, only one--the FSA, responsible for administering farm support programs and providing disaster relief--has a procedure in place to prevent payments from going to dead Americans. Their system compares its program participants with Social Security Administration death rolls. Still, FSA dispersed at least $3.3 million to the dead in the last two years. About $1 million has since been recovered the agency said.

The other two agencies are in much worse shape.

According to the GAO, NRCS, which is in charge of conservation programs, and RMA, which administers the federal crop insurance program, paid a combined $32 million between 2008 and 2012 to individuals who had been dead for at least one year.

The auditors recommended the FSA implement a strict prevention process in order to decrease the amount of tax dollars going to the dead. Unsurprisingly, GAO also recommended that NRCS and RMA develop data-referencing procedures (similar to FSA's) to prevent more tax dollars from going to dead individuals.

USDA isn't the only federal department that has reported improperly paying the dead. In September 2011, the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management reported that OPM's Civil Service and Retirement Disability Fund lost $120 million a year through payments to dead federal workers.