Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today released the following statement in a monthly series highlighting Washington’s wasteful spending during a time of record debt and deficits:

A recent audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has distributed millions of subsidy dollars to dead farmers over the past few years.

“Former President Reagan famously said, ‘A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.’  Apparently, being a recipient of federal spending can also bring eternal life,” said Portman.  “GAO recently uncovered that the USDA has spent millions on subsidies for deceased farmers.  It is expensive enough for taxpayers to continue sending money to Washington to help support the 314 million living Americans.  Before demanding more taxes from American workers, Washington should clean up this waste and modernize its program oversight.  Eliminating payments to deceased individuals is a good place to start.”

The investigation found that the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which provides traditional farm subsidies, has paid $3.3 million to deceased farmers since 2007.  Moreover, since 2008, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has made $10.6 million in payments on behalf of 1,103 individuals who at the time had already been dead for more than a year. Over that same period, the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, which runs the crop insurance program, granted $22 million in subsidies and allowances to 3,434 policy holders who been deceased for at least two years.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new.  A 2007 GAO investigation found that FSA had paid $1.1 billion to 172,801 deceased individuals since 1999.  In response, the 2008 farm bill required USDA to regularly cross-reference its recipient lists with the Social Security Administration’s master list of deceased individuals.  Several USDA agencies have not fully implemented this requirement, however, and these payments have continued even by those agencies that have.  Some of the payments may have been proper (for instance, the surviving spouse may have retained eligibility), yet USDA has often made the payments without even determining their legality.

The USDA is not alone in subsidizing the dead.  The 2009 “stimulus” law included $18 million in “economic recovery payments” to 72,000 deceased individuals (not to mention $4.3 million in payments to 17,000 incarcerated individuals).