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Highlights

Farmers receive about $20 billion annually in federal farm program payments, which go to individuals and "entities," including corporations, partnerships, and estates. Under certain conditions, estates may receive payments for the first 2 years after an individual's death. For later years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must determine that the estate is not being kept open for payments. As requested, GAO evaluated the extent to which USDA (1) follows its regulations that are intended to provide reasonable assurance that farm program payments go only to eligible estates and (2) makes improper payments to deceased individuals. GAO reviewed a nonrandom sample of estates based, in part, on the amount of payments an estate received and compared USDA's databases that identify payment recipients with individuals the Social Security Administration listed as deceased.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. To provide reasonable assurance that FSA does not make improper payments to estates and deceased individuals, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency to instruct FSA field offices to conduct all annual estate eligibility determinations as required.
Closed - Implemented
USDA revised and strengthened its guidance to field offices for reviewing estates held open for more than 2 years after the date of death of the recipient. The guidance also directs field offices to review an estate before all other eligibility determinations for payments can be made.
Department of Agriculture 2. To provide reasonable assurance that FSA does not make improper payments to estates and deceased individuals, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency to implement management controls, such as matching payment files with the Social Security Administration's Death Master File, to verify that an individual receiving farm program payments has not died.
Closed - Implemented
In fiscal year 2009 USDA completed implementation of a data-matching and review process between its payment files and the Social Security Administration's data file. USDA issued instructions to field offices not to issue payments to any individual until the required reviews are completed and it is determined that all eligibility requirements have been met.
Department of Agriculture 3. To provide reasonable assurance that FSA does not make improper payments to estates and deceased individuals, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency to determine if improper program payments have been made to deceased individuals or to entities that failed to disclose the death of a member, and if so, recover the appropriate amounts.
Closed - Not Implemented
USDA did not implement this recommendation.

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