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Lucas Asks Vilsack to Rethink Tax Records Plan

posted on March 27, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and eight other Republicans on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee have asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reconsider a plan that would make farmers release their tax records.

Lucas, the committee's ranking GOP member, and the others made the request in a letter sent to Vilsack on Wednesday, calling the plan an "invasion of privacy" that "is clearly against Congressional intent."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week that farmers who request federal subsidies will be required to sign forms allowing the IRS to provide their tax records to the USDA. The program is expected to begin with subsidies for this year's corn crop.

Vilsack said the new policy was being implemented in response to the discovery of nearly $50 million in payments to farmers ineligible for the subsidies. Farmers are ineligible for some subsidies if they have more than $500,000 in nonfarm income or $750,000 in farm earnings.

"One of the goals of this Administration is to make certain that USDA payments are not issued to individuals and entities that exceed income eligibility limits established by law," he said in a news release. "Once this verification system is fully operational, high-income individuals and entities will be identified by USDA before farm program payments are actually disbursed to them."

Lucas and the other GOP committee members said that if Congress had wanted the IRS to share the tax information of farmers, "we would have explicitly said so" in the 2008 farm bill.

The letter said that to confirm a farmer's adjusted gross income, Congress instead allowed for a verification of income statement that was to be prepared by a certified public accountant or another third party acceptable to the USDA and submitted every three years.

"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," the letter said.

"We, of course, do not want ineligible producers receiving payments, but Congress provided an explicit mechanism to address the problem without involving the IRS."

Besides Lucas, those signing the letter were Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Timothy Johnson of Illinois, Sam Graves of Missouri, Steve King of Iowa, Randy Neugebauer of Texas, Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Jean Schmidt and Bob Latta, both of Ohio.

Tags: agriculture government money news Tom Vilsack USDA