Don’t let Purdue cut USDA Rural Development funds

by Anna Johnson

Center for Rural Affairs

The Center for Rural Affairs has fought on behalf of rural communities for nearly 45 years.

We are heartened by U.S. Depar­t­ment of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s expressions of support for rural communities during his early days in office. However, we are concerned about his current path.

On May 11, Purdue proposed eliminating the position of undersecretary for Rural Development and moving oversight of Rural Development agencies to the deputy secretary, USDA’s second-in-command. If this change is made, we lose the most significant rural advocate within USDA. Rural America stands to suffer as a result.

Although USDA has a broad mission to support food and agriculture, Rural Development is the only body with the explicit directive to support rural communities.

Rural Development’s broad and complex responsibilities include:

• Providing loans for treating wastewater and constructing homes;

• Facilitating innovation and encouraging success in entrepreneurship and small business;

• Supporting rural broadband access.

And more.

This announcement follows President Trump’s proposal to cut USDA’s budget by more than 20 percent.

If Perdue truly wishes to support rural America, he should not eliminate the position of undersecretary for Rural Development, nor support deep cuts to the budget. Instead, he should appoint to the position a strong advocate for rural communities, and support a budget that allows Rural Development to carry out its mission.

Rural America deserves a champion who is not distracted by the demands of managing the diverse respon­sibilities of USDA.

By retaining the undersecretary position, USDA will be better positioned to work with rural people and achieve a vision for America that includes thriving rural communities and economic opportunity for all.

Anna Johnson (annaj@cfra.org) is a policy program associate for the Center for Rural Affairs, which is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches and rural communities.