Highlighting the important work carried out by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, National Farmers Union (NFU) and a diverse coalition of rural organizations are calling on Congress to prevent any attempt to eliminate the Rural Development Mission Area (RD) and the Office of the Under Secretary for Rural Development.
The groups outlined their concerns in a letter to members of Congress today. The letter follows a proposed reorganization of USDA by the Trump Administration, which would eliminate Rural Development as a core mission area and replace the Under Secretary for Rural Development with a Special Assistant.
“Rural America is much more than production agriculture,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Family farmers and ranchers need vibrant rural communities because they provide desirable amenities and jobs. Underfunding, understaffing or demoting the Rural Development Mission Area within USDA would cause real harm to programs that benefit farming and rural communities.”
Rural families, businesses and cooperatives need efficient transportation infrastructure, high-speed broadband, affordable water, quality schools and public safety for rural communities to prosper. USDA’s Rural Development Mission Area allows underserved rural communities to be competitive in the national and global marketplace.
“RD has a $216 billion portfolio with over forty different programs,” noted the coalition’s letter. “Programs under the Rural Development portfolio provide critical resources and technical assistance for some of the most underserved communities in the country – a responsibility demanding the highest caliber of leadership and accountability.”
Rural Development is currently a core USDA Mission Area. It is overseen by an Under Secretary, and is therefore part of the USDA subcabinet. The reassignment would remove Rural Development from the subcabinet and rescind both the decision-making power that comes with being a core USDA Mission Area and the ability for Congress to have direct oversight.
“The Administration highlights the shift as an “elevation of rural development” as the new assistant would report directly to the Secretary of Agriculture,” noted the letter. “Yet all Under Secretaries already report directly to the Secretary, and indeed serve as part of his subcabinet, so the assertion this would better position RD is deeply misleading.”
The letter also noted the USDA reorganization is the result of a congressional directive included in the 2014 Farm Bill, which instructed USDA to create a new Undersecretary of Trade. Although Congress directed USDA to create a Trade Under Secretary, USDA was under no legal obligation to eliminate any other mission area or Undersecretary to accomplish the directive.
“Rural America should not have to choose between production agriculture and critical economic development investments. We need core services and programs aimed directly at addressing the unique and diverse needs of rural communities,” concluded the letter.