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USDA cotton subsidies pay for cars, elephant lamps, artwork

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Farmer Roy Baxley, Jr. walks through a cotton field during the harvest on his farm in Minturn, South Carolina November 24, 2012. (Reuters)

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cotton subsidies meant to assist the textile industry are being spent on Ford Explorers, artwork, sound systems, and elephant lamps, according to a government watchdog.

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit on Thursday detailing how the government has failed to properly oversee the Economic Adjustment Assistance to Users of Upland Cotton Program (EAAP), resulting in more than $2.4 million worth of “questionable” purchases.

The program, which was created in the 2008 Farm bill, pays textile mills 3 cents per pound of upland cotton they produce to be used on investments, equipment, and new property. However, the OIG found at least $900,000 in payments that went to manufacturer’s “personal use.”

For instance, one recipient used government funds to buy two Ford Explorers, costing over $45,500. The recipient bought a Ford Explorer and then traded it in for a new one 11 months later, the day before a government deadline requiring the funds to be spent or paid back to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).

“Altogether, we questioned 75 expenditures, totaling over $2.4 million,” the OIG said. “This occurred because FSA has not implemented effective internal controls to determine which capital expenditures are eligible uses of EAAP funds.”

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