Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Rural interest groups protest proposed elimination of USDA undersecretary for Rural Development

As the Senate mulls over the appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2018, which began Oct. 1, rural interest groups are asking them to retain an important administrative position that may be eliminated. On Oct. 31, a coalition of 68 organizations sent a letter to House and Senate Appropriation Committee and Agriculture Subcommittee chairs and ranking members, urging them to retain language in the Senate agriculture appropriations bill that directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to retain the Rural Development Mission Area and appoint and fund an Under Secretary for Rural Development.

In May, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue proposed eliminating the Under Secretary for Rural Development and giving oversight of rural development agencies to the Deputy Secretary, the USDA's second-in-command. The move came after President Trump called on Perdue to cut the USDA's budget by more than 20 percent.

The letter stresses the importance and complexity of Rural Development: "Rural Development is an organization of 5,000 people, 400 offices, and 40 programs, with a loan portfolio of $216 billion dollars. In FY 2015 alone, USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service helped rural business owners and entrepreneurs create or save over 52,000 rural jobs; the Rural Utilities Service helped 5.5 million people receive new or improved electric facilities and 2.4 million people receive new or improved water facilities; and the Rural Housing Service provided over 140,000 new home ownership opportunities."

Cutting the position would be disastrous for rural development programs, the letter continues: "Without the political leadership of an Under Secretary, agencies will tend to drift to separate agendas and difficult issues will go unresolved. Moreover, Rural Development deserves a seat at the table when high-level decisions are being made. As part of the USDA subcabinet, a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary can offer that leadership and political legitimacy."

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