This is the first of two blogs updating readers on the status of the fiscal year 2022 appropriations process. To read the second, click here.
Last month, President Joe Biden unveiled his full budget for fiscal year 2022. The annual release—a formal request by the administration to Congress for funding for government programs—was several months behind schedule, likely due to the change in administration and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Center for Rural Affairs submitted a set of appropriations requests to members of Congress, urging them to fund programs that support rural America.
We were pleased to see a number of those priorities—from funding for rural development, to farms and conservation, to energy and the environment—included in the President’s budget. However, there were instances where the administration missed an opportunity to prioritize the needs of rural communities.
Here’s a look at how the Centers’ appropriations priorities compared with the President’s budget.
The Center’s top appropriations priority is support for rural entrepreneurs, namely the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP). Through RMAP, direct loans and grants are made available to rural entrepreneurs and microenterprises. Third-party intermediaries, known as Microentrepreneur Development Organizations, provide the technical services and distribute microloans of $50,000 or less to rural microentrepreneurs.
In recent years, RMAP has been granted $6 million in discretionary funds through the appropriations process. In 2022, we are urging Congress to fund this program at $12 million. In his budget, the president listed RMAP at $6 million.
“The President missed an opportunity to enhance support for rural entrepreneurs. These small businesses provide valuable support to rural economies and communities,” said Center policy director Johnathan Hladik. “Routinely overlooked in stimulus legislation, even a small increase for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program could pay substantial dividends for rural entrepreneurs nationwide.”
Another Center priority is the Rural Business Development Grants Program. The President’s request is equal to the program’s funding last year, $37 million, but we are in favor of more financial support, $45 million.
Finally, the Center was disappointed to see a decrease in funding for the Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program, which is designed to support the creation, development, and improvement of rural cooperative or mutually owned businesses. The budget calls for $5.8 million, a decrease of $3 million from fiscal year 2021 funding, and well under the Center’s request of $15 million.
The Center was pleased to see strong support for the Rural Energy for America Program, which provides grants and loans to farmers and rural businesses interested in making energy efficiency improvements, including implementation of renewable energy.
The budget calls for $30 million toward grants, plus a bit more for loans through the program. That amount is significant, given that in recent years, discretionary dollars have not been given to this program’s grants, and loan funding was routinely under $1 million.
We also would like to see strong support for federal programs that support farmers, ranchers, and landowners. The budget was generally supportive of our priorities, but the Center requests higher funding levels for these important programs.
One recommendation was for strong funding for Conservation Technical Assistance, which largely funds Natural Resources Conservation Service staff in providing valuable technical assistance to farmers and ranchers. The President proposed an increase in funding, but one that was a few hundred thousand dollars short of our $1.1 billion request.
While the budget seeks to increase mandatory spending levels for several programs, including the working lands Environmental Quality Incentives Program, it skips over requested increases for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP, which supports good stewards in improving conservation on their working lands, saw a notable funding decrease under the 2018 farm bill, and President Biden’s administration is missing an opportunity to advocate for a return to historic funding levels for this valuable program.
We were enthusiastic to see the budget matched our request of $60 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the only U.S Department of Agriculture competitive grants research program with a consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research.
The Center supports funding of the Local Agriculture Market Program at $20 million. This program consists of three subprograms that support local and regional food economies. The budget designates $15 million for the Value Added Producer Grant Program; $3 million for Agriculture Innovation Centers; and $7.4 million for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. We are encouraged by this strong support.
Finally, we know access to appropriate credit is critical for farmers and ranchers. We were pleased to see the budget numbers were similar to our Center requests.
- For Direct Farm Ownership Loans, our request was $2.776 billion and the budget lists $2.8 billion
- For Direct Operating Loans, the budget matched our request of $1.633 billion.
- For Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans, our request was $3.6 billion and the budget lists $3.5 billion.
- For Guaranteed Operating Loans, the budget matched our request of $2.118 billion.