Yesterday, we were among 578 organizations, businesses, and local governments that signed a letter opposing the elimination of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development mission area and undersecretary.
For more than 20 years, they have helped rural communities develop and expand thriving businesses, create new economic opportunities, and build and maintain housing, water, electric, telecommunications, and other rural infrastructure.
Eliminating the undersecretary is the removal of the most significant rural advocate within USDA. Rural America stands to suffer as a result. In early May, we released a statement following USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue's announcement. Click here to read the statement. Click here to read our weekly column.
The letter is below, and can be seen by clicking here.
Dear Chairman Cochran, Ranking Member Leahy, Chairman Hoeven and Ranking Member Merkley:
We, the undersigned 578 organizations, write to express our opposition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget for Rural Development. This budget if enacted, along with the ill-advised recommendation to eliminate the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development, will substantially diminish resources dedicated to improving rural communities and the lives of rural people.
We believe a better choice for rural America is to continue USDA Rural Development programs at no less than the FY 2017 levels included in Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (115-31). This will allow USDA Rural Development to continue its important mission of providing technical and financial assistance aimed at improving the living and economic conditions in rural America. We also urge the Committee to oppose elimination of the Rural Development mission area and the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development. Rural Development needs the time and attention of a management team led by an Under Secretary who is empowered to direct and administer rural development programs and field staff.
For more than 50 years, USDA rural development programs have improved housing, utilities and community facilities, and economic opportunity for rural America. In FY 2016 alone USDA made available over $29 billion in loans, guarantees, grants, and related assistance to over 157,000 individuals, businesses, non-profit corporations, cooperatives, and governments. USDA’s total loan portfolio includes over 1.3 million loans that amount to over $215 billion. There is widespread agreement that USDA has done a good job in managing this portfolio and protecting the federal government’s investment.
Yet, there is still more to be done: According an analysis of socio-economic well-being prepared by the Wall Street Journal, rural counties in America are in worse condition than big cities, suburbs and small or medium metro areas. Rural communities, and the people who live in them, have higher poverty and unemployment rates as well as a higher incidence of substandard housing and rent overburden when compared to metropolitan areas.
Virtually every community in the country with inadequate drinking water has a population of 3,300 or less. Although much of the country has seen recovery from the financial crisis, rural America still lags behind. The decade’s long trend of community bank closure and consolidation has hit rural areas particularly hard. The number of community banks in the United States has declined by an average of 300 per year over the past 30 years, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and a collapse in the price of agricultural commodities has added stress on many small towns and farming communities.
The Administration’s response to the problems facing rural America can only be described as a wholesale retreat. The FY 2018 budget eliminates funding for two dozen housing and rural development programs. The rescissions proposed for FY 17 and eliminations and reductions proposed for FY 18 total over $1 billion and well over $3 billion in program financing. If approved, USDA will no longer provide direct rural housing loans, grants for mutual and selfhelp housing, financing for water and waste disposal systems, or loans and grants to small rural businesses, cooperatives, and value added producers. Many other programs are reduced well below the current rate. What will be left is a hollowed-out Rural Development function, degraded within the Department with far fewer resources to help rural America.
We urge the Committee to reject the Administration’s FY 18 budget and reorganization proposals for Rural Development and instead provide appropriations at no less than the current rate and maintain the Rural Development mission area and position of Under Secretary for Rural Development.
The Center for Rural Affairs
+577 other organizations, businesses, and local governments from across the U.S.