Congress Overlooks America’s Small Towns

To win good policy, we need your voice.

Small towns and ordinary rural people are receiving short shrift in federal policy.

Our recent study found that USDA spent twice as much on subsidies to just the 20 biggest farms in each of 13 leading farm states – 260 mega farms – as it spent on rural development programs to create strong communities and economic opportunity for millions of rural people in 260 struggling rural counties in those same 13 states.

Congress is over subsidizing mega farms and under investing in our future for one simple reason. Mega farms are a well-organized constituency. But rural leaders and citizens who care about their communities are not well organized.

We aim to change that. As a first step, we’ve added thousands of rural developers and local elected officials to receive this monthly newsletter, with a regular new feature, Calling All Rural Leaders! And we’re reaching out through the mail, internet and phone lines to recruit more voices to speak out for their communities, their neighbors and their future.

The time is critical. Washington is not working for small towns, family farms and ranches, small enterprise or ordinary citizens. It’s up to us to change it by embracing the responsibilities of citizenship, making our voices heard and holding our elected official accountable.

This year or next, Congress will write a new farm bill governing rural development and agriculture programs. Its first attempt – late last year – was a disaster.

That bill made even deeper cuts in funding for rural development, which had already been cut by one-third over the last eight years. It increased the share of farm program payments that go to mega farms – granting them unlimited subsidies and further subsidizing them to drive small and midsize farms off the land. It cut beginning farmer programs and conservation programs that reward farmers who protect the land and water.

We can do better, but only if more rural Americans – rural leaders – join the debate and demand a farm bill that invests in our future, rather than subsidizing our demise.

We also have a huge stake in the coming debate over America’s energy future. A commitment to renewable energy – wind, solar and sustainable biofuels – can create tens of thousands of good jobs across rural America while protecting our rural environment. If we get the policy right, rural people can share in the wealth created, and there can be a whole new generation of small rural businesses tied to renewable energy.

There are promising strategies that work to create a better future in small towns and rural America. But we need public policy that invests in our future, rather than undermining it.

To win good policy, we need your voice.

Contact me, Chuck Hassebrook, with comments or questions. Call 402.687.2100 or email chuckh@cfra.org.