LYONS, NEBRASKA – As they continue to face challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, rural small businesses and communities with loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program find themselves on the outside once again, according to Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs.
Provisions of the Rural Equal Aid (REA) Act, a measure introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) and in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), were left out of the latest round of stimulus funding approved Monday by Congress.
The measure had bipartisan support, with Reps. Troy Balderson (R-OH), Austin Scott (R-GA), and Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and David Perdue (R-GA) among the cosponsors of the House and Senate bills, respectively.
“Our elected officials have again let these rural entrepreneurs down,” Hladik said. “Congress has forgotten the pandemic has been just as severe if not more so in many rural communities.”
Under the REA Act, businesses with loans through the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program would have their principal, interest, and associated fees covered for a six-month period. The REA also included loans through the Intermediary Relending Program, as well as those made to public and nonprofit organizations for community facilities, and to businesses, cooperatives, and nonprofits expanding in rural areas.
Those are the same provisions given to businesses with loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March. In this latest round of funding, relief to SBA borrowers is extended a second time.
Hladik said offering the same support is crucial not only for the business and community entities involved, but also rural America.
“Expanding support to these businesses would have provided parity for rural communities that have been hit hard by the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” Hladik said. “These are the loans that keep Main Street vibrant, making it possible for small community financial institutions to grow local economies with local dollars.”
The Center for Rural Affairs supports family farms and ranches as well as small business. The new stimulus package also included funds to directly support small-scale meat processors to help them expand and distribute meat across state lines. Hladik said this line item increases market access and boosts economic development, giving livestock producers a peace of mind and providing consumers with more choices.
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