Ag Policy Blog

Groups Push Back on USDA Rural Development Demotion

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Groups opposed to at least some aspects of the proposed USDA restructuring are sending letters to Congress about their complaints.

Several groups wrote leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on Monday asking Congress to block attempts to eliminate the office of Undersecretary for Rural Development. The groups are calling their coalition, "the Campaign for Renewed Rural Development."

While they "applaud the administration for supporting agricultural trade," the groups state that rural communities need rural infrastructure such as "high-speed broadband, affordable housing and water, quality schools and public safety." Underserved rural communities need a strong Rural Development program.

In creating the new undersecretary for trade, the groups highlighted there was no mandate in the 2014 farm bill to eliminate any other under secretary position or mission area. Further, the groups do not buy into the argument that having the leader of Rural Development report directly to the secretary as an "elevation of rural development."

"In its current position as a core USDA Mission Area overseen by an Under Secretary, RD (Rural Development) is part of the USDA subcabinet; the reassignment would remove it from the subcabinet and rescind the decision-making power that comes with being a core USDA Mission Area."

Under the Rural Development portfolio is a $216 billion portfolio with over 40 different programs, as well as roughly 5,000 employees and 400 offices nationally.

As the groups noted, the reorganization is among a series of concerns to rural stakeholders as they point to President Donald Trump's "skinny budget" that included the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program, the Rural Business Cooperative Service programs and the Rural Water Wastewater Program.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is expected to testify on the state of the rural economy Wednesday before the House Agriculture Committee. It will be interesting to see how much emphasis is placed on the USDA reorganization and possible shift in Rural Development.

The letter was written by Center for Rural Affairs, Council for Affordable and Rural Housing, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Fair Food Network, Housing Assistance Council, National Association of Counties, National Association of Development Organizations, National Association of Towns and Townships, National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA, National Farmers Union, National Rural Water Association, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Inc., and State Agriculture and Rural Leaders.

A separate letter on Rural Development was sent to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and related agencies.

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5/19/2017 | 5:49 AM CDT
"Skinny budget" ???