Tamara Hinton (202) 225-0184
WASHINGTON – Today, Ranking Member Frank Lucas along with eight of his Republican colleagues on the Agriculture committee sent a critical letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, asking him to rethink USDA’s recent announcement that the department will require all farmers to sign a form, which grants the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) the authority to provide income information to USDA for verification purposes. Failure to comply with this new requirement will make the producer ineligible for program benefits.
According to a recent release from USDA, this new requirement is in response to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that was released in October 2008. In that report, GAO found that between 2003 and 2006, there were 2,702 recipients of USDA program payments who exceeded income eligibility guidelines. Roughly two million individuals receive USDA program payments each year.
The complete letter to Secretary Vilsack is included below:
March 25, 2009
The Honorable Thomas J. Vilsack
The United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We are writing to express our concern over your recent announcement in the federal register forcing all farmers to allow USDA access to their tax records before they are eligible for payments authorized by law. This invasion of privacy is clearly against Congressional intent.
Exacerbating our frustration is the short period during which farmers can comment on this announcement. We will be surprised if farmers even get the word that this new obligation is imposed on them before the comment period is closed on April 6, 2009.
Mr. Secretary, those of us responsible for the 2008 farm bill, from which you say this authority flows, did not anticipate farmers signing away their right to keep their tax information confidential while we debated section 1604(d)(1). If we wanted the IRS to share farmer tax information we would have explicitly said so. We did not.
We did offer a choice to producers. Congress allowed for a verification of income statement, prepared by a certified public accountant or another third party acceptable to you, to be submitted every three years that confirms the producer’s adjusted gross income which makes he or she eligible to receive payment.
By forcing every producer to give USDA the power to verify with the IRS information submitted by the farmer or rancher takes away this choice, unnecessarily invades privacy and contravenes the intent of Congress. We, of course, do not want ineligible producers receiving payments, but Congress provided an explicit mechanism to address the problem without involving the IRS.
We strongly request you reexamine this decision. Congress never intended such a blatant violation of privacy.
Rep. Frank D. Lucas, Ranking Member, (OK-3)
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA-6)
Rep. Timothy V. Johnson (IL-15)
Rep. Sam Graves (MO-6)
Rep. Steve King (IA-5)
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (TX-19)
Rep. Jean Schmidt (OH-2)
Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-3)
Rep. Bob Latta (OH-5)