Congress: Rural Development deserves a seat at the table

The Center for Rural Affairs was among several national organizations urging Congress to include a directive in appropriation legislation for Fiscal Year 2018. Section 755 of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture to nominate an individual to fill the role of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Rural Development.

In May, U.S. Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue announced a reorganization eliminating the Undersecretary for Rural Development.

“The Center for Rural Affairs has fought on behalf of rural communities for nearly 45 years," said Anna Johnson, policy program associate, in a press release. "We are heartened that Sec. Perdue is making strong efforts during his early days in office to express support for rural communities. However, we are concerned about the path he has chosen. Sec. Purdue has proposed eliminating the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development and moving oversight of Rural Development agencies to the Deputy Secretary, USDA’s second-in-command. If he makes this change, Sec. Perdue will be removing the position of the most significant rural advocate within USDA. Rural America stands to suffer as a result." 

Perdue's announcement followed a request by the Trump Administration to cut the USDA budget by more than 20 percent.

“Rural America deserves a champion who is not distracted by the other demands of managing the diverse responsibilities of USDA," Johnson said. "By retaining the Undersecretary position, USDA will be better positioned to work with rural people and achieve a vision for America that includes thriving rural communities and economic opportunity for all.”

The Fiscal Year 2018 Senate bill includes language directing USDA to retain the Rural Development Mission Area and appoint an Under Secretary for Rural Development. The Senate bill also includes funding for the long-standing position.

On Oct. 31, the letter was sent to The Honorable Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman, House Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Nita Lowey, Ranking Member, House Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Thad Cochran, Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Robert Aderholt, Chairman, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee; The Honorable Sanford Bishop Jr., Ranking Member, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee; The Honorable John Hoeven, Chairman, Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee; and The Honorable Jeff Merkley, Ranking Member, Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Letter

Dear Chairs and Ranking Members:

As you prepare to finalize appropriations legislation for FY 2018, we write to urge your support for including Section 755 of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill, which directs the Secretary of Agriculture to nominate an individual to fill the role of USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development. We further request that you support the inclusion of $896,000 for the Under Secretary’s office.

In May 2017, USDA announced that it intended to eliminate its Rural Development Under Secretary. USDA’s decision to downgrade rural development and undermine its leadership structure is shortsighted and dangerous. Fortunately, the FY 2018 Senate bill includes language (SEC. 755) directing USDA to retain the Rural Development Mission Area and appoint an Under Secretary for Rural Development. The Senate bill also includes funding for the long-standing position.

Rural Development is an organization of 5,000 people, 400 offices, and 40 programs, with a loan portfolio of $216 billion dollars. In FY 2015 alone, USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service helped rural business owners and entrepreneurs create or save over 52,000 rural jobs; the Rural Utilities Service helped 5.5 million people receive new or improved electric facilities and 2.4 million people receive new or improved water facilities; and the Rural Housing Service provided over 140,000 new home ownership opportunities. Given its size and complexity, USDA Rural Development requires an Under Secretary to ensure that the work of the agencies is coordinated and accountable to tax payers.

Without the political leadership of an Under Secretary, agencies will tend to drift to separate agendas and difficult issues will go unresolved. Moreover, Rural Development deserves a seat at the table when high-level decisions are being made. As part of the USDA subcabinet, a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary can offer that leadership and political legitimacy. We therefore urge you to adopt the Senate language retaining funding for the Office of the Under Secretary for Rural Development and directing the Secretary to appoint an individual to fill that position.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Agriculture and Land-based Training Association
Alabama State Association of Cooperatives
American Federation of Government Employees Local 3354
Arkansas Land and Community Development Corporation
Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake Counties Farmers Union - Ohio
California FarmLink
California Institute for Rural Studies
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Center For Rural Affairs
Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems - Oregon State University
Certified Naturally Grown
Community Food and Justice Coalition
Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias
Cottage House - Alabama
Dakota Rural Action
Delta Land & Community
Desert Forge Foundation
Family Farm Defenders
Fair Food Network
Farm Aid
Farms Not Arms
Farm to Table New Mexico
Farming 4 Justice – North Carolina
Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc.
Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund
Food for Maine’s Future
Friends of Family Farmers
Friends of the Earth
Hmong National Development Inc.
Housing Assistance Council
Island Grown Initiative
Indian Nations Conservation Alliance
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Kansas Rural Center
Land Stewardship Project
LiveWell Colorado
Maine Farmland Trust
Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
National Association of Development Organizations
National Association of Towns and Townships
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farm to School Network
National Hmong American Farmers
National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council
Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society
Northwest Forest Worker Center
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc.
Organization for Competitive Markets
Pesticide Action Network
Roots of Change
Rural Advancement Fund of National Sharecroppers, Inc.
Rural Coalition / Coalición Rural
Rural Development Leadership Network
Slow Food USA
Somali Bantu Community of Lewiston Maine
Sustainable Food Center – Texas
Taos Country Economic Development Corporation
Texas/Mexico Boarder Coalition
The Center for Family Farm Development, Inc.
Union of Concerned Scientists
Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Winston Country Self Help Cooperative - Mississippi
World Farmers