USDA Rural Development programs use varying definitions of “rural area,” Botts explains. “Rural water programs are allowed to go only to cities, towns, or unincorporated areas of fewer than 10,000 people. The limit for community facility programs (which pay for libraries, health centers, and many other community brick-and-mortar investments) is 20,000, while the limit for business programs is 50,000.” The Senate bill would use a 50,000 limit for all programs.
That could hurt rural areas with small populations, Botts writes. She notes testimony by the National Rural Water Association that more than 400 communities will have to wait until at least next year for water-project money. “This is an oversubscribed program and has been for years,” she writes. “If it is oversubscribed now with its limit at 10,000 people, what will result when the population limit is raised to 50,000?”
The bill sets aside half of one rural water program’s funds to communities with fewer than 3,000 people and gives a “priority” to areas with fewer than 5,500. “But more than 80 percent of the funding already goes to areas of 5,000 or fewer, according to the National Rural Water Association testimony, so this language may actually mean little in practice,” Botts writes. For her full article, click here.