Agriculture Department handed out $1.1 billion to estates or companies of deceased farmers, watchdog agency reports By SARAH COHEN The Washington Post WASHINGTON | The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers, according to a government report. The Government Accountability Office also found — in a selection of 181 cases from 1999 to 2005 — that the agency routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made. The report cited a 1,900-acre soybean and corn farm in Illinois that collected $400,000 on behalf of an owner who lived in Florida before his death in 1995. The company did not notify the government of the death but certified each year that the dead shareholder, who owned 40 percent of the company, was “actively engaged” in managing the farm. Most estates are allowed to collect farm payments for up to two years after an owner’s death, giving heirs time to restructure their businesses and probate the will. After that, local USDA officials must certify every year that the estate is farming and has remained open for reasons other than simply collecting subsidies. But the GAO report found that the Agriculture Department depends on heirs and businesses to alert the agency to deaths and fails to use other sources such as Social Security records to confirm eligibility. The report was prepared at the request of Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, a frequent critic of large subsidies to wealthy farms. It is expected to be publicly released Tuesday at a Senate Finance Committee hearing. “Farm payments are meant for those who need some help getting through the tough times,” Grassley said last week. “Clearly there are loopholes that should be closed and laws that need to be followed.” In a letter responding to the GAO report, the Agriculture Department said that the payments were not necessarily examples of fraud or abuse and that auditors did not prove any specific cases of cheating. The department’s field offices defended the practice of routinely paying dead farmers’ estates without fully investigating the claims, citing staff shortages and competing priorities. The agency also said any overpayments would amount to less than 1 percent of farm subsidies paid between 1999 and 2005. http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation/story/200713.html So who cashed the checks?????