Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In Farm Bill debate, extra money for rural development vanishes; deadline may be extended

Rural development can work wonders for small communities, but the new Farm Bill won't be putting any more money into the cause. While earlier versions of the bill raised rural development funding by as much as $400 million, the latest have removed any such increase. That's because "Rural development advocates have not been able to speak with a loud and insistent enough voice to become anything more than mice jumping up and down squeaking, 'Me, too, me too,' as the farm bill elephants dance," writes Jason Gray in the Daily Yonder.

Gray explains that those competing interests — such as a crop subsidies or a new disaster aid program — managed to keep the attention of Congress and its funding. "I suspect that the rural development mouse will never become an elephant in its own right until Congress understands that effective rural development programs benefit both rural communities and the nation’s fiscal bottom line," Gray writes. "We’re caught in a cycle: We can’t reduce funding for the programs that treat the symptoms of poverty, such as hunger — which means the country doesn’t have the money to fund development that might alleviate the causes of poverty."

Gray does note some "good news" in the House and Senate versions, such as the $150 million in funding for socially disadvantaged farmers and those just starting out as farmers. Of that $150 million, $100 million is slated for the Pigford settlement, which arose out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's admission that it had discriminated against African-American farmers. Grayt is research and policy director of the Southern Rural Development Initiative. (Read more)

Meanwhile, the House voted today to extend the 2002 Farm Bill another week to give lawmakers more time to finish the next one, but the Bush administration "is threatening to block an extension ... unless lawmakers meet its demands for changes in policy and avoids raising revenue to increase spending," reports Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register. Friday is expiration date for existing programs. "It seems every time Congress advances this Farm Bill, the White House has to throw up another obstacle to the bill's completion," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told Brasher. "It's like we've pulled up in the combine for harvest, only to see a big boulder in the middle of the field setting us back." (Read more)

The Senate is expected to follow the House's lead, reports Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network. House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told Shinn he expected "to have these things wrapped up by the 25th," and President Bush could have the bill on his desk by May 9. (Read more)

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