Millions of Dollars Going to Farmers Who Died

It is not unusual or even illegal to find federal farm subsidies -- your tax dollars-- going to people who do not live on farms and never did.

But WFOR-TV in Miami found millions of dollars going to farmers who died, some of them a long time ago.

"Working with help from the Environmental Working Group's database experts, the CBS4 I-Team matched Federal Farm Bill recipients with people, birth dates, addresses and Social Security numbers found on the Social Security Administration's death index.

"The I-Team discovered at least 234 people in South Florida who are deceased. They are on the farm aid's list, even though they are dead. To view the complete list, click here.

"Those people still received your tax dollars in the form of farm aid. The I-Team's research shows the 234 people received a total of $9,506,255."

The head of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization that has tracked farm subsidy spending for years, said he is hardly surprised. In fact, he said, it is not uncommon for farmers to keep getting subsidies for three to five years after death. The system just doesn't catch the mistake. Find out more on this Environmental Working Group Web site.

Now, the really disturbing news. The government has known for years that this sort of thing goes on. In 2007, the General Accountability Office wrote about the problem of subsidy payments going to farmers. It looked at 181 cases from 1999 to 2005 and found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time:

" 'It is completely outrageous that dead farmers continue to get money,'  EWG's Richard Wiles said. 'Can you imagine if it were dead welfare recipients? The Congress would be up in arms!' "

Additional resources

--The Environmental Working Group data base. Enter a name, a county or a state and find out who is getting farm subsidies near you. Remember, just because people get a subsidy does not mean they are doing something wrong or illegal. For some farmers, subsidies have been lifelines in tough times. But billions of dollars go to people who have never farmed but hold a financial interest in a farm. I find it interesting, for example, that in my own beach community of St. Petersburg, Fla., so many of my neighbors are getting checks for crop subsidies. We don't grow a lot of soybeans and corn on the beach.

--"Federal Farm Programs: USDA Needs to Strengthen Management Controls to Prevent Improper Payments to Estates and Deceased Individuals. GAO-07-1137T, July 24, 2007, Summary, Highlights Page [PDF] Full Report [PDF, 14 pages] Accessible Text"

  • Profile picture for user atompkins

    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


Related News

Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon