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Farm Groups Oppose End to USDA’s Rural Development Office

Fearing the demotion of rural economic concerns and harm to their communities, a coalition of rural and farm groups urged leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to oppose the USDA’s plan to eliminate the Office of Under Secretary for Rural Development.

Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a reorganization of the USDA that would eliminate the rural undersecretary office and transfer the duties to a special assistant.

“Rural America is much more than production agriculture,” said National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson, one of the participants in the group. “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 strong, healthy communities with efficient transportation infrastructure, high-speed broadband, affordable housing and water, quality schools, and public safety, the group’s letter to Congress said. “We support and encourage the efforts to strengthen agricultural trade, but our underserved rural communities also need a robust RD program to be competitive in the national and global market.”

They pointed out that rural development is currently overseen by an undersecretary who is part of the USDA subcabinet. The reassignment would end direct congressional oversight on the office’s work, the letter said.

They viewed elimination of the office as part of a series of events “causing concern” in rural areas. The group cited the White House’s recent budget proposal that eliminates rural utilities and business programs, the Community Development Block Grant program, and the entire portfolio of Rural Business Cooperative Service programs and the Rural Water Wastewater Program.

The letter was signed by 15 groups.

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