Last night, Stephen Stock — lead investigative reporter for Florida’s CBS-TV 4’s I-Team — aired a report on people collecting taxpayer-funded farm subsidies for years after they’ve died. Stephen’s story is a timely follow-up to a Government Accountability Office report two years ago that showed how $1.1 billion in those federal subsidies went to the estates or companies of dead farmers over the course of 7 years.
For this story, the I-Team didn’t rely on a government report. Instead, they cross-referenced the Social Security Administration’s Death Index with the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database. The SSA’s Death Index, or Death Master File, “contains over 83 million records of deaths that have been reported to SSA.”
The result? The I-Team found that in Central Florida alone, dead farmers have received $9.5 million in farm subsidies. Statewide, the number swelled to $89 million.
Elected representatives from both parties have assured us that the recently passed farm bill is chock full of reforms. Senator Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) called it a “reform-minded, solid farm bill,” while Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN) said that “farm and conservation program transparency increased.”
Stephen has a nose for stories of government waste and abuse, and the US’s deeply flawed farm subsidy system is a tempting target. Last July he reported on a Florida office park developer named Maurice Wilder who banked nearly $3 million in farm subsidies over a three-year period. I asked Stephen what interests him about the subject of farm subsidy abuses. He told me:
This is the type of story we believe we must be doing. It is important to let the public know what is happening to their tax dollars, how they are being spent or misspent. Americans must understand where their government fails them. And we must continue to hold those in power accountable for how billions of tax dollars are spent. This type of story is at the very essence of what we as journalists are about.