May 20, 2015
On Tuesday, May 19, the US Department of Agriculture published an interim rule on the Strategic Economic and Community Development program under Section 6025 of the 2014 Farm Bill. This rule, which goes into effect on June 19, sets aside up to 10 percent of funds appropriated to a handful of Rural Development (RD) programs to focus some of the program funding on regional projects rather than a single community development plan.
The RD programs targeted include Community Facility loans and grants, Rural Business Development Grants, Business and Industry guaranteed loans, and Water and Waste Disposal loans and grants. Any excess funding that is not obligated to a regional project will be returned to the regular Rural Development program areas.
This funding priority is expected to “support development plans on a multi-jurisdictional basis” in rural areas. The goal is for funded projects to align with regional plans and build capacity for the long-term economic and community growth of regions, creating jobs and regional wealth in the process.
Implementation of Section 6025 of the Farm Bill was the topic of a May 2014 hearing of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation entitled The Importance of Regional Strategies in Rural Economic Development. This hearing addressed the new Farm Bill priority for regional approaches to rural economic and community development using successful examples from the Dakotas and Nebraska.
NSAC supported this provision during the consideration process of the 2014 Farm Bill. This rule offers much-needed opportunities for regional rural development that is much needed.
The 2014 Farm Bill also builds on the growing investment in value-added agriculture and local and regional food systems. Of particular note on that score, the new Strategic Economic and Community Development program includes the Local and Regional Food Enterprise guaranteed loan program that is a subset of the Business and Industry program.
All written comments for this interim rule must be received on or before August 18, 2015.