House Farm Bill Out of Touch with Rural Americans

The US House of Representatives’ farm bill is out of touch with rural America in its disregard for protecting the small town and rural way of life. If and when a conference committee meets to produce a final farm bill, it should incorporate the Senate’s rural development provisions.

Last month, I reported on our bipartisan poll of rural voters in the Southeast, Midwest, and Great Plains. Nearly 9-in-10 rural Americans say the rural and small town way of life is worth fighting for and protecting; but 7-in-10 worry it is dying. Three-fourths blame politicians for ignoring problems of rural and small town America.

They have a point. Our 2007 study found USDA invested only half as much in rural development programs to serve millions of people in the 20 rural counties suffering the worst population decline in each of 13 leading farm states, as it spent just to subsidize the 20 largest farms in each of those states. It’s not getting better. Real federal investment in helping small towns and rural entrepreneurs has fallen by half over the last decade.

The House farm bill would make it worse, jeopardizing the continued existence of USDA’s primary rural small business development program – the Rural Microenterprise Development Program. It would receive zero funding, resulting in less financing and business planning assistance for rural small businesses. The House would provide zero funding for the small towns on a long waiting list for USDA loans and grants to make critical upgrades to their water and sewer systems.

The House farm bill flies in the face of rural American’s priorities. Of those polled, 8-in-10 support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through upgrades to water and sewer systems. Over half said “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me.” Three-fourths agreed with federal funding for small business loans and training.

The rural voters polled had a common-sense approach to finding the money to pay for it. Three-fourths said “stop over subsidizing the nation’s largest farms to drive smaller operations out of business.”

The House bill does include one step in that direction, sponsored by Nebraska Representative Jeff Fortenberry. It would close loopholes and tighten limits on traditional farm program payments to mega farms. But it would place no limits on what has become the primary farm program – federal crop insurance. If one corporation farmed all of America, taxpayers would foot 60 percent of its crop insurance premiums every year on every acre.

The House farm bill is out of touch with rural America and the commitment of rural people to protect the small town and rural way of life.

Find more on the poll of rural voters on federal policy here.