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Fraud offers obvious targets for cuts

Published on March 8, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on April 5, 2013 9:14AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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The most heated rhetoric in the ongoing "sequestration" fight holds that the $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts now in force will cripple the government and stall the already weak economic recovery.

Under the current rules, the Department of Agriculture is slated to cut $2 billion or so of discretionary spending.

Everyone agrees the sequester is a ham-handed way to cut spending. President Barack Obama called it "dumb." But when the GOP presented legislation that would give the president the authority to decide where the cuts should be made, he said he didn't want to have to choose between bad outcomes.

That suggests that all government spending is important, efficient and necessary.

We're not so sure. Neither are other critics.

* The USDA has set aside $1 billion to settle the claims of Hispanic and women farmers discriminated against when they sought loans and other services between 1981 and 2000. The Heritage Foundation points out the program is rife with potential fraud because claimants are required to provide little documentation.

It points out that more than 90,000 claims were paid to settle a class action suit by black farmers who said they were discriminated against, three times the number of black farmers recorded by the Ag Census during the period.

With $1 billion on the line, the USDA should make sure claims are legitimate before writing the checks.

* Only individuals who make a "significant contribution" of capital, land or equipment to a farming operation are eligible to receive direct commodity payments. The Government Accountability Office says the USDA is making direct payments to hundreds of recipients who have limited or no involvement because the USDA had not defined a measurable standard of what constitutes a significant contribution.

It wouldn't be hard to set a fair standard and trim the rolls.

* Both the Senate and House eliminated the direct payment program in their respective farm bill proposals last year. A new bill was never passed, and it's uncertain the program will be on the block when Congress starts negotiating later this year on a replacement.

If it does keep the program, Congress should eliminate provisions that allow farmers to collect payments based on historic plantings, even if they aren't growing the crop. Between 2003 and 2011, the USDA paid $10.6 billion to farmers who weren't growing program crops.

* USDA officials tout that fraud in the $87 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- food stamps -- is less than 1 percent. But the USDA Inspector General found the Food and Nutrition Service can't calculate nationwide fraud because it doesn't have a uniform way for states to compile data.

The same report found that in just one state 61,065 recipients exceeded the program's income limitations. A review of records in 10 states found 27,044 people presumed to be dead received $3.7 million in SNAP benefits each month.

The "accepted" fraud amounts to $870 million, nearly half of USDA's share of the sequester cuts.

We could go on and on, but space and time are in short supply. Needless to say, beyond waste and fraud in legitimate programs lies an untapped reservoir of useless spending that can be eliminated.


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