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Taking Farm Subsidies to the Grave


Dying doesn’t stop some farmers from receiving subsidies. That’s the word from the NYT, which reports that the Agriculture Department doesn’t have “the proper controls” to prevent millions of dollars every year from being paid to deceased farmers:

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, which oversees the Agriculture Department’s conservation programs, sent out $10.6 million in payments between 2008 and 2012 to more than 1,000 people who had been dead for more than a year, according to the report.

The Risk Management Agency, which administers the crop insurance program, paid $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who had been dead for at least two years. The G.A.O. said that some of those payments might have been made while the farmer was still alive, but that there was no way to know for sure.

This isn’t the first time this summer we’ve heard of government payments to dead people. A state audit in May found that Massachusetts had been sending millions in welfare payments to 1,160 people who were either dead or using a dead person’s Social Security number.

Mark this down as another reason our public officials and policy leaders need to start thinking of ways to make government simpler and more efficient. Cash transfers from the young to the old are one thing; transfers from the living to the dead are another.

[Image of farm with cross courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Thirdsyphon

    Has anyone polled this subject lately? The last time I checked, strong majorities (>60%) of Americans were opposed to subsidizing companies and individuals who work more than 500 acres of land.

    In the current state of the economy in agriculture, dropping those subsidies would save us almost all of what we’re currently spending on crop support.

    • Andrew Allison

      Your comment suggests that you are under the misapprehension that our Congressional Reprehensatives represent anybody but themselves! There’s only one imperative in Congress: get elected and stay elected.
      I agree with you that subsidies are an invitation to abuse, but that was the subject of the post. ;<)

      • Bruce

        The subsidies will never go away. Iowa is an early caucus state and you can’t get the Republican nomination being against subsidies because you’ll get smoked at the caucus. The people in flyover country like their “freebies” too. The Dems would never be against the subsidies to begin with.

        • Corlyss

          Yet another reason to reform the currently horrid Republican primary system for selecting Presidential candidates. Anything would be better than what we have now.

        • cubanbob

          The corn farmers ought to erect a statute to Fidel Castro and send him a Christmass card every year. Castro has been very good for the corn farmers and ADM.

    • Corlyss

      “why they got bundled in with food stamps in the first place”

      Let’s be candid. The only excuse for the food stamps program is to support the ag industry. It’s far less a supplemental nutrition program than it is a mechanism for soaking up the vast excess crop production in the US. As much as I love the family farm, it’s woefully inefficient and should eventually give way to economies of scale that are possible only in big agribusiness.

      • Bart Hall

        Actually, you’re quite wrong. The *well-managed* medium-sized family farm is the most efficient production unit possible in a free-market. It’s a question of cost and magnitude of errors, as well as the degree of “skin in the game”.

        I’m an agronomist by training, who operates a farm for a living and eschews every one of the federal subsidies for which I’m eligible. They quite simply would distort my decision-making and planting decisions.

        Unfortunately, we’re not currently in free-market agriculture — for one example the massive water subsidies to California growers who subsequently crow about their superior “efficiency”. Make ’em pay market rates for water and 95% of ’em are out of business. The bigger they are, the worse it is.

        Food Stamps, BTW, are the overwhelming majority of the USDA budget, and they were included in USDA (not HHS) as a way to garner *urban* support for other farm boondogles.

        • Corlyss

          Thanks for setting me straight about the mid-sized family farm. And I salute your conscientious refusal to accept subsidies you’re entitled to. We need more like you.
          I admit ag policy hasn’t been a primary interest, despite the fact that I eat. Mostly I watch ag land disappear into subdivisions and parks. I just haven’t seen anything politically capable of resisting the urban blighting of ag land except big agribusiness.

      • Thirdsyphon

        I love the family farm as a concept, but no more than I love the family bookstore, the family locksmith shop, or the family accounting firm. I’ve never been clear on why it’s a national priority to make sure that the children of farmers, and only farmers, get the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of their parents.
        Regarding the food stamp program, the excuse one needs to find for it depends on who one is excusing it to. In farm country, that probably *is* the only reason for it that will fly. . . but in cities and suburbia, people actually use the program to buy food for their children. I know at least one of those people, and while he’s not particularly proud of this fact, the food stamp program was a lifesaver for his son and triplet daughters in the 10 months or so following his layoff in the Great Recession. The funds aren’t *all* being diverted to fraudsters.

  • Corlyss

    “public officials and policy leaders need to start thinking of ways to make government simpler and more efficient.”
    I’ve given up any hope of ever seeing such a development. Besides what would happen to all those minorities working in the blue model service delivery apparatus if the system suddenly because efficient. Wouldn’t that end up with the bulk of them on welfare?

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