Federal Politics

Published — November 26, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Wealthy ‘farmers’ snag federal dollars

Introduction

Forget stimulus checks; wealthy farmers raked in more than $49 million in federal funds between 2003 and 2006 that they may have been ineligible for, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture payments went to 2,702 farmers who had adjusted gross incomes that “exceeded $2.5 million and derived less than 75 percent of their income from farming, ranching, or forestry operations,” which makes them potentially ineligible for the payments, according to the report.

Examples of wealthy individuals who may have improperly received funds (which ranged from crop subsidies to disaster payments) include:

  • A founder and former executive of an insurance company received more than $300,000 from 2003 to 2006.
  • An individual with ownership interest in a professional sports franchise received more than $200,000 from 2003 to 2006.
  • An individual residing outside the United States received $80,000 for 2003, 2005, and 2006.
  • A top executive of a major financial services firm received more than $60,000 in 2003.

For now, these high-rolling “farmers” will remain anonymous. “We have asked the GAO for all of the names and they do not want to share that with us,” said a USDA spokesman who also preferred anonymity. “That is part of the problem. We do not have access to the IRS data they have access to.”

The USDA currently lacks the authority to obtain and use IRS filer data, which it says contributes to its inability to verify that the people who receive payments quality for them.

Lisa Shames, director of Natural Resources and Environment at the GAO, said her office does not have the authorization to release names. It has recommended that the USDA apply for the authorization it needs to get access from the IRS, she said.

Doling out taxpayer money to wealthy part-time farmers, it turns out, is only the most recent trouble with those farm payment programs. In 2007, the GAO reported that the USDA program paid $1.1 billion in questionable payments from 1999 to 2005 to over 170,000 people. Why questionable, you ask? The recipients were all dead.

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