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Highlights

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides programs to help farmers recover financially from natural disasters. Congress has historically supplemented these programs with ad hoc programs that pay farmers who experienced crop losses. The 2008 farm bill established a program through 2011 to pay farmers who lose crops. To receive these payments, farmers must purchase coverage under federal crop insurance or the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, and receive claims payments for losses. GAO was asked to evaluate (1) how FSA administered the crop disaster programs for losses from 2001 through 2007 and the results of payments under these programs and (2) what lessons FSA can learn from the previous crop disaster programs to manage its new crop disaster program. GAO reviewed statutes, regulations, and guidance; analyzed USDA data; and interviewed USDA officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To better ensure that payments under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program compensate farmers who experienced eligible crop losses, the Secretary of Agriculture should implement procedures so that FSA county officials are notified at the time of crop insurance claims for disaster-related losses so those officials have an opportunity to verify that crop disaster payment applicants experienced losses because of an eligible cause.
Closed - Implemented
FSA made available the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) Information Report, which provides crop insurance notice of loss information and the Producer Data Change Report, highlighting any crop insurance changes received from the Risk Management Agency to the notice of loss information by producer. FSA officials can access this information to help them verify the eligibility of the causes of loss.
Department of Agriculture To ensure that crop disaster payments under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program can be assessed as to whether they comply with relevant statutes and regulations, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency to develop and maintain data system documentation, including written business rules, of the interim payment system and the final automated payment system that are used to calculate and issue crop disaster payments.
Closed - Implemented
FSA has updated its User Requirements for Payment Processing for the Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance (SURE) Program in an effort to maintain data system documentation. This documentation includes instructions for handling the payment and overpayment process, and for completing the payment process. The March 2014 update included documentation related to the provision of valid SURE accounting codes.
Department of Agriculture To ensure that crop disaster payments under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program can be assessed as to whether they comply with relevant statutes and regulations, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency to develop and implement a mechanism to link Web-based payments to the application data in the spreadsheets maintained in the FSA county offices that would result in an integrated interim payment system.
Closed - Not Implemented
FSA decided not to link Web-based payments to the application data for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program because nearly all program payments have been made. As a result, the funds required to accomplish the link would outweigh the benefits of the effort, according to FSA officials.

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