Monday, June 10, 2013

Senate passes Farm Bill that would broaden definition of 'rural' for development programs

The Farm Bill that passed the Senate this evening would reduce the number of definitions that the federal government has for "rural," to nine from 15, two of which apply only to Puerto Rico, reports David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post. The definitions vary from program to program, which can be confusing for local officials.

The Department of Agriculture wants to use a single definition, a jurisdiction of less than 50,000 people, for its Rural Development portfolio of programs, and the bill would do that. Now, areas with 20,000 or fewer residents can get loans and grants for community facilities, but are too heavily populated to get aid for water and waste disposal systems, which only go to areas with 10,000 or fewer people. And those areas don't qualify for aid for telecommunications systems, because only areas with 5,000 or fewer residents qualify for that.

Some rural interests say broadening the definition will make it harder for small places to compete for funding. "In the House, both Republicans and Democrats have said the population cap is too high and the bill’s vision of 'rural' is too expansive," Fahrenthold reports. "The Senate bill would still give smaller places priority treatment." The bill passed 66-27 at 6:55 p.m. EDT. Brad Plumer of The Washington Post has a guide to the bill. For a look at its prospects in the House, from David Rogers of Politico, click here.

Among other federal definitions of "rural," the Census Bureau says it's any place outside a town or city with more than 2,500 residents. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it's areas with a population density between seven and 1,000 people per square mile. And the Department of Education just goes along with whatever state governments, who take the lead in school matters, define as rural. (Read more)

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