Farm Bill is the Rural Bill Too
October 31st, 2013
Today, following on the heels of yesterday’s first meeting of the Farm Bill conference, NSAC joined 28 other national, regional, and state-based organizations working to bolster rural community and economic development in a letter delivered to House and Senate conferees urging them to “provide a robust Rural Development title that promotes economic growth and stability in rural areas.”
Among the groups signing the letter were the American Public Works Association, American Sustainable Business Council, Center for Rural Affairs, Housing Assistance Council, National Association of Counties, National Association of Development Organizations, National Association of Towns and Townships, National Grange, National Rural Health Association, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Rural Coalition.
Though it often takes a back seat in farm bill deliberations, the farm bill is nonetheless the primary legislative vehicle for rural economic development and infrastructure programs. Over the course of the last three farm bills (1996, 2002, 2008), Congress has provided an average of over $400 million in farm bill funding for rural development programs. Sadly, both the House and Senate-passed bills from this year provide far less. This disinvestment comes at an especially inopportune time, as discretionary funding for rural programs has also taken a beating in recent appropriations bills and continuing resolutions.
Coordinated by the Campaign for Renewed Rural Development (CRRD), a coalition of rural policy advocacy organizations representing a broad range of interests, today’s letter highlights the need for strong funding levels for U.S. Department Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development programs, and urges the conferees to support, at a minimum, the $228 million mandatory funding level in the Senate bill.
The undersigned organizations stressed the importance of mandatory farm bill funding for the following programs and projects:
- Value-Added Producer Grant program — to improve funding beyond the amount provided in either bill to return it to its $20 million per year historic average mandatory funding level;
- Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program — to include no less than the Senate level of $15 million (over 5 years) funding, and preferably more; and
- Rural Water/Wastewater projects — to have at least the Senate level of $150 million in mandatory funding to begin working through the large backlog of infrastructure projects that are waiting on funding.
The groups also urged the conferees to reject big decreases in rural development authorization levels included in the House-passed bill, and to support various policy changes — some from each bill — to streamline and improve the Rural Development Title.
The Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) provides competitive grants to individual and groups of independent agricultural producers to develop value-added producer-owned businesses. VAPG has helped a wide range of producers – from dairy farmers and pork producers to specialty crop farmers and on-farm energy producers. VAPG contributes to the profitability of small and mid-sized producers – providing ways to diversify products and markets and providing consumers with more local and sustainably-produced food options.
VAPG is one of several important “stranded” programs that lost its funding when the Farm Bill failed to pass last year and the nine month extension left many programs high and dry, with no funding for 2013.
For VAPG, the groups urged the conferees to adopt changes in language to VAPG from floor amendments filed by Senator Brown (D-OH), a conferee, and Representatives Fortenberry (R-NE) and Pingree (D-ME) – language changes that would assist beginning farmers and ranchers and promote local and regional food production.
The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) provides entrepreneurs in rural areas with the skills necessary to establish new businesses and create jobs. RMAP provides loans and grants to Microenterprise Development Organizations (MDOs), which in turn provide technical services and distribute microloans to rural microentrepreneurs. Very small businesses have played the leading role in economic recovery in rural America.
The Senate bill provides only $3 million a year for RMAP, and the groups signing the letter encouraged the conferees to find additional funding for the program. In NSAC’s own letter to the conferees, we have urged a $10 million a year funding level.
The organizations also urged changes to improve the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, Community Facilities Program, Rural Business Opportunity Grant Program, and Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program.
Click here to view a copy of the letter and a list of organizations that have signed on.