Nearly 600 organizations sent a letter to Congress opposing the Trump administration's proposal to eliminate the USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development.
The letter also lamented cuts to rural development programs in the FY 2018 budget. Signatures came from organizations located all around the country, and included community development organizations; nonprofit housing developers; state and national trade associations; farmer and agriculture cooperatives; affordable housing organizations; city governments; universities; and tribal governments.
"Rural Development has a proven track record of success in providing targeted support in the form of technical assistance grants and direct financial assistance to America's hardworking rural families," said Bob Rapoza, executive secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition. "Even so, rural Americans still face significant challenges to economic prosperity."
Rural communities have higher poverty rates and higher rates of unemployment when compared to big cities and suburbs. The families living in these areas also face higher incidences of substandard housing and rent overburden. In addition, over 90% of the water systems with a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act are small systems with 3,300 or fewer users.
The FY 2018 budget request included substantial cuts – or complete eliminations – to almost all of the programs within the Rural Development mission area. Overall in terms of budget authority current Rural Development programs is cut buy $867 million or 31%. Specifically, the Rural Business programs and the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, as well as Rural Water and Wastewater Loans and Grants are completely eliminated. In addition, virtually every direct loan or grant program under the Rural Housing Service, including the Mutual Self-Help Housing program, the Section 502 Direct loan program, and the Section 515 Multifamily Housing Loan program, are eliminated as well.
“The administration’s proposals do not sit well with family farmers and rural residents who benefit tremendously from the work of USDA Rural Development,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “While we appreciate Secretary’s Perdue’s heightened interest in rural economic development, President Trump’s proposed budget does not align with this interest. In fact, the budget proposal and proposed USDA reorganization bring the long-term viability of USDA RD into question.”
The USDA reorganization plan, announced in early May, would eliminate the Under Secretary for Rural Development – the only subcabinet position focused exclusively on assisting low-income rural and farming communities. The proposal claims that this elimination will "elevate" the Rural Development mission area by reporting directly to the USDA Secretary, however the administration's FY 2018 budget request suggests otherwise.
"By eliminating the Under Secretary for Rural Development and eliminating funding for two dozen housing and rural development programs and rescissions for Fiscal Year 2017 as well—the administration is clearly turning its back on rural families and the communities where they live," Rapoza said.
"If the budget request is approved and the reorganization proposal moves forward rural communities will not receive the quality of assistance and resources needed to prosper," Rapoza said. "This letter sends a message to members of Congress that if they intend to meet rural communities' needs, a strong Rural Development mission area is required."
The letter was circulated by the National Rural Housing Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. It was been shared with the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committees.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee met June 13 to review the FY2018 USDA budget request.
Source: National Rural Housing Coalition, PR Newswire, Senate Appropriations Committee, NFU