Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue building on past reforms that she helped author in the 2008 Farm Bill and to go further to crack down on fraud and abuse in agriculture programs. Chairwoman Stabenow also focused on cutting red tape for farmers and small businesses during an accountability hearing she convened to review USDA's efforts to measure performance and detect fraud in agriculture programs.
"Workers in my state get annual performance reviews, and they're right that we should apply the same standard to our government. We also need to be carefully looking at how we stop fraud and abuse," Chairwoman Stabenow said to a panel of senior officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who are responsible for overseeing the implementation of agriculture and food programs. "So many families in Michigan never imagined they'd be in a situation where they need food assistance, and dollars are so tight, we can't afford to have even one dollar go to fraud, or even one person abuse the system."
Senator Stabenow said, "We need to be thinking about ways that we can streamline the services we're offering to make them more effective, and cut red tape and paperwork that our producers shouldn't have to worry about."
Today's hearing comes following Chairwoman Stabenow's announcement last week that Michigan will receive $3.3 million for its work in 2009-10 to stop errors in state-administered parts of the food assistance program. Stabenow called on the state of Michigan to use the funds to strengthen enforcement efforts in the food assistance program and today continued the same effort at the federal level, focusing on the role the federal government should be playing in preventing fraud and abuse. During the hearing, Chairwoman Stabenow congratulated the USDA Inspector General on the successful raid on the Lansing J&K General Store that was able to recover nearly half a million dollars.
The Inspector General's report last week showed that in the last six months it has conducted successful investigations and audits that led to 516 arrests, 249 convictions and $47.8 million in recoveries and restitutions. Chairwoman Stabenow said even more must be done to continue detecting and stopping abuse.
Witnesses at the hearing included a panel of senior USDA officials comprised of the Hon. Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary, Rural Development; the Hon. Michael Scuse, Acting Under Secretary, Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; the Hon. Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment; the Hon. Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services; and the Hon. Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. Additional witnesses included Ms. Phyllis Fong, Inspector General, US Department of Agriculture; Mr. Brett Blankenship, Blankenship Brothers of Washtucna, WA; and Ms. Masouda Omar, Manager of Business Finance Loan Production, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority in Denver, CO.