Office of Rural Development needs support

May 28, 2017
Contributed Columns

Our rural communities face numerous challenges: secure jobs, access to affordable health care, drugs (including opioids), quality education, improvement of infrastructure and much more.

For more than 23 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development has helped tackle those challenges, and rural America has fared better because of it.

Earlier this month, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a major restructuring of the Office of Rural Development within USDA. The changes include eliminating the Undersecretary of Rural Development and giving the critical responsibility of overseeing our rural development programs to an aide within the Agriculture Secretary’s Office. This, in effect, is a demotion of critical programs for rural communities to address these challenges.

In communities across Arizona’s First Congressional District, and the country, Rural Development works directly with our farmers, ranchers, small businesses, tribes and local governments to grow our economy through direct investments and providing technical assistance. The office provides a critical service to rural communities across the country, making them more vibrant and competitive.

The Office of Rural Development, the only office within the USDA with a clear directive to support rural communities, manages a $216 billion portfolio with more than 40 programs that directly benefit rural America. In Arizona, the office has provided more than $360 million in resources, much in the form of low-interest loans for home construction, small businesses, and water and wastewater treatment facilities, as well as investments in broadband, infrastructure and entrepreneurship training to attract a talented work force and new business opportunities.

While I encourage a comprehensive review of our government in search of efficiency and streamlining processes, I cannot support changes or cuts that result in a reduction of critical services for my constituents and others in rural America. The elimination of the undersecretary position indicates USDA may not have the capacity or resources to continue the important work of the Office of Rural Development. In addition, we have not been offered an articulated plan to ensure vital services and resources will not be jeopardized. In fact, just the opposite has been shown by the current administration.

On top of the reorganization, President Trump has proposed budget cuts to USDA, impacting rural development business programs, Community Block Development Grants, and water and sewer loans. These arbitrary cuts only serve to set us back and diminish the work being done to improve the quality of life in rural America. Taking away these investments in our communities will have far-reaching negative consequences for hardworking families throughout the country.

It is imperative to have a strong advocate for rural America and a budget that allows the USDA to continue providing critical resources to communities across the country. I urge Secretary Purdue to support rural America by protecting the undersecretary of the Office of Rural Development position and fighting against cuts to rural development programs. Every American benefits from this continued investment. As a member of the Agriculture Committee, I will continue to work with my colleagues in a bipartisan way to find solutions that work for rural America and our agriculture community.