Crop insurance and rural farm development programs issued over $17 million in high-dollar improper payments during the 2012 fiscal year, but the five food assistance programs conservatives frequently criticize as fraud-riddled issued exactly zero such payments. The numbers come from a report released Wednesday by the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Inspector General report.
In total, the USDA reported 239 separate high-dollar overpayments with a total value of $20.3 million across all its programs. The federal crop insurance program misspent $14.6 million in 70 different high-dollar overpayments, and programs that provide conservation resources to farmers misspent $2.7 million in 53 different overpayments. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and four other anti-hunger aid programs targeted at the poor reported zero high-dollar overpayments.
The USDA review targeted “high-dollar overpayments,” which are defined as payments at least 50 percent above the correct amount and totaling at least $5,000 to an individual or $25,000 to an organization. That makes the report an imperfect dragnet, which in turn means the report is unlikely to prevent opponents of the food stamp programs from continuing to claim that anti-hunger spending is rife with “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Those talking points have survived years of evidence that food assistance is in fact among the most efficient and least erroneous federal aid programs, especially as compared to farm programs.
Wednesday’s report is just the latest peak on that mountain of evidence. The fraud rate in food stamps is down to just one percent from four percent in the early 1990s. Crop insurance programs have an erroneous payment rate of 4.7 percent, while food stamps makes erroneous payments just 3.8 percent of the time. Error rates for SNAP are at an all-time low.
Many of the same conservative lawmakers who decry food stamp fraud have received millions of taxpayer dollars from the crop insurance program and other farm subsidies. Republican leaders in the House have prioritized those farm programs over the more-efficient anti-poverty spending that has traditionally been included in the farm bill.
So far this year, the House has failed to pass a renewal of nutritional spending legislation. The “nutrition title,” as it’s known, includes both food assistance to the poor and funding for food charities and other anti-hunger efforts that Republicans say they support. The portion of the farm bill that the House did pass, which includes the programs singled out in Wednesday’s overpayments report, effectively guarantees profits to the owners of farms that produce sushi rice and other commodities. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the top agricultural policymaker in the Senate, has warned that the House leadership’s split farm bill threatens to undermine the entirety of agricultural policy in the country. House leaders have pledged to take up the nutrition title this month, but plan to cut food stamps by $40 billion.