WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today highlighted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm payment program. Following Grassley’s request for review, the GAO report concluded that USDA has improved its completion of eligibility compliance review, but additional oversight is needed.
“As a lifelong family farmer and taxpayer watchdog, I’ve fought to close loopholes that have allowed some operations to exploit federal farm payments at taxpayer expense. It’s situations like this that undermine the purpose and support for farm safety net programs that help farmers weather downturns in the market and survive natural disasters, such as the derecho that wiped out tens of millions of acres of crop acres and damaged grain bins across 57 Iowa counties,” Grassley said. “Farm payments should only go to those with dirt under their nails. Congress must fix this broken system in the next Farm Bill. I look forward to continuing to work with the USDA as they address much-needed changes to FSA office operations to implement these recommendations.”
The report found several issues primarily in the FSA state offices. One devastating finding is that the USDA does not systematically monitor its performance of compliance reviews. This lack of oversight and accountability has created a welfare system for some joint-ventures and general partnerships, particularly in the South. The report shows that 19 of the top 20 farms that received payments in 2016 and 2017 are in the South. Following these findings, GAO made an additional five recommendations for USDA and FSA to implement so that only those actively engaged in farming are utilizing the payments and the program is used for its original purpose.
Grassley has been a longtime advocate for farm payment limitations. A Grassley amendment to close a loophole allowing an unlimited number of so-called managers to qualify for federal subsidies was included in the last two farm bills during Senate consideration. In both of the last two farm bill negotiations, Grassley’s amendment was removed from the final bill. Before the last farm bill, the GAO documented that at least $259 million was paid out through the actively engaged loophole Grassley’s amendment sought to close.
Recently, USDA announced its final rule on the implementation of payment limitations and definition of “actively engaged” in farming as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Last year, Grassley and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska sent a letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to use his existing regulatory authority to implement the Farm Bill in order to ensure that individuals receiving farm payments are actively engaged in farming. While this is an important step, it’s clear based on this GAO report that there is much more work to be done.
The full report can be found HERE.