The Senate Finance Committee Tuesday will discuss a report that shows the U.S. Agriculture Department has paid 1.1 billion dollars to nearly 173,000 people who are dead. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, who is the finance committee’s ranking Republican, requested the report from the General Accounting Office.
"The law on the books is very clear," Grassley says, "in order to receive government payment, you have to be ‘actively engaged in the business of farming’. If you’re dead, you’re not actively engaged in the business of farming."
Grassley says the USDA, for some reason, has not had controls in place to catch the error. He wants the problem fixed within 60 days, so the Ag Department avoids sending out more checks to the estates of deceased farmers. Grassley says the USDA should join with the Veteran’s Administration and Social Security Administration, who have been sharing information about "who’s alive and who’s dead, so they can stop the checks."
Grassley says it’s also wrong for families of deceased farmers to cash the checks, but the government probably won’t be able to recover that money. "I think it’s kinda like locking the barn door after the horse is stolen," Grassley says, "particularly if it was paid to an estate, the estate’s settled, and the heirs of the estate probably don’t have any obligation. That’s why it’s so necessary, in the next 60 days, we get the USDA to make sure this mistake is not repeated again." The GAO report covered subsidies paid between 1999 and 2005.