Juan M. Garcia, executive director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Texas, has used the release of a final rule that targets fraud and abuse of farm programs in joining FSA administrator Jonathan Coppess to state again his unequivocal commitment to accuracy.

At issue has been the dispersal of payments to agricultural producers after an individual’s death, a situation that is covered in the final rule published in the Federal Register on Dec. 28, 2010.

“It is common and legally required for USDA to pay estates of producers who die, because heirs have legal right to receive program payments earned during the farmer’s lifetime,” Garcia said. “Generally, error rates have been small, but an audit in 2007 highlighted areas for improvement. Since then, we at FSA have worked hard to make procedural improvements that have further reduced error rates and are saving taxpayers significantly. We are codifying those improvements with this final regulation.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office audit in 2007 found that the vast majority of farm payments were made properly. Only 2 percent of payments to estates of deceased farmers were paid when the estate was not entitled to payment. Still, this error rate prompted USDA to implement additional safeguards and to strengthen data reconciliation procedures to ensure that payments made on behalf of deceased persons were not distributed incorrectly. As a result in 2008, errors dropped to .008 percent and, in 2009, they fell even further to .007 percent.

FSA additional safeguards include:

Each quarter (double the amount of time required by the law), USDA matches individuals who receive FSA program payments with data provided by the Social security Administration to determine if any program recipient is deceased.

For more information, visit the local FSA county office or www.fsa.usda.gov.