Steady support for rural communities in Senate appropriations bill

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The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations recently approved a draft bill to fund various government programs in fiscal year 2022. Prepared by the committee’s Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies subcommittee, the bill proposes spending levels for a number of programs that support rural communities.

Earlier this year, the Center for Rural Affairs submitted a set of appropriations requests to members of Congress seeking support for this valuable funding. Here’s how our appropriations priorities compare with the content of the bill.

Still room for growth in rural development

The Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program (RMAP) is the Center’s top appropriations priority. Designed to make direct loans and training available to rural entrepreneurs and microenterprises, this program plays a key role in rural economic development.

While the Center recommended funding RMAP at $12 million, the committee proposed no increases from 2021 spending, leaving the program at $6 million. This is $2 million short of the House committee’s recommendation released earlier this summer.

Similar to RMAP, the Rural Business Development Grant Program (RBDG) spurs rural economic growth by providing new marketing opportunities, training, and resources to small businesses. 

The Senate committee proposed to keep RBDG funding levels consistent with fiscal year 2021 at $37 million, falling $8 million short of the Center’s recommendation of $45 million.

The Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program exists to support the creation, development, and improvement of rural co-ops or mutually owned businesses. The Center proposed $15 million in funding, compared to the committee’s $8.8 million proposal.

Meaningful gains made in agriculture and conservation

The Conservation Technical Assistance account largely funds Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, who provide valuable tools and expertise to farmers and ranchers. While the committee’s proposal of $784.813 million did not match the Center’s request for $1.1 billion, it is a slight increase from fiscal year 2021 funding of $734.255 million.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education is USDA’s only competitive grants research program with a consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research. The Center requested $60 million in funding, however is still encouraged by the Senate committee’s approval of $45 million, up from $40 million in fiscal year 2021.

Steps forward for energy and agricultural marketing

The Center is highly encouraged to see strong support for rural energy investments, with $20 million set aside for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), significantly higher than our request of $5 million. REAP provides grants and loans to farmers and rural businesses interested in making energy efficiency improvements, including implementation of renewable energy. 

This funding for grants—plus a bit more for program loans—is a significant increase given that in recent years, discretionary dollars have not been appropriated to the program’s grants, and loan funding was routinely less than $1 million.

The Local Agriculture Market Program consists of three subprograms that support local and regional food economies. Total funding of these subprograms exceeded the Center’s ask of $20 million with the committee proposing $12 million for Value Added Producer Grants, $7.4 million for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and $3 million for Ag Innovation Centers.

The appropriations process also takes Farm Service Agency loan programs into consideration. Because appropriate credit is critical for farmers and ranchers, the Center was pleased to see the committee propose amounts similar to our requests. They are:

  • For Direct Farm Ownership Loans, our request was $2.776 billion and the bill lists $2.8 billion. Up from $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2021.
  • For Direct Operating Loans, the bill matched our request of $1.633 billion. 
  • For Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans, our request was $3.6 billion and the bill lists $3.5 billion. Up from $3.3 billion in fiscal year 2021.
  • For Guaranteed Operating Loans, the bill matched our request of $2.118 billion. 

To read our thoughts on President Biden’s budget proposal, click here. For our opinion on the House appropriations bill, click here.