Nearly 600 organisations, including the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA), have signed a letter to the US Congress opposing the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to rural development programmes.
Accusing the government of a “wholesale retreat” from the problems facing rural areas, the letter says the plans – which would also eliminate the post of USDA under secretary for rural development – would “substantially diminish resources dedicated to improving rural communities and the lives of rural people”.
Under the plans, more than two dozen housing and rural development programmes face closure, and more than £3bn in financing will be lost, says the letter, which wants the cuts to be scrapped.
The letter says: “For more than 50 years, USDA rural development programs have improved housing, utilities and community facilities, and economic opportunity for rural America. In FY 2016 alone USDA made available over $29bn in loans, guarantees, grants, and related assistance to over 157,000 individuals, businesses, non-profit corporations, co-operatives, and governments.
“USDA’s total loan portfolio includes over 1.3 million loans that amount to over $215bn. There is widespread agreement that USDA has done a good job in managing this portfolio and protecting the federal government’s investment.”
The 578 signatories want these programmes to continue, with spending at least matching 2017 levels, and say the position of under secretary for rural development is vital to ensure projects are given appropriate management and attention.
More than 46 million people live in rural areas of the US and the letter warns these regions face stark problems, such as inadequate drinking water, slow recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, community bank closures and collapsing agricultural prices.
“Rural communities, and the people who live in them, have higher poverty and unemployment rates as well as a higher incidence of substandard housing and rent overburden when compared to metropolitan areas,” it says. “The administration’s response to the problems facing rural America can only be described as a wholesale retreat.
“If approved, USDA will no longer provide direct rural housing loans, grants for mutual and self-help housing, financing for water and waste disposal systems, or loans and grants to small rural businesses, co-operatives, and value added producers.”
NCBA CLUSA, the apex body for America’s co-ops, joins other large organisations such as the National Rural Housing Coalition, National Farmers Union and National Development Council in signing the letter.
Other co-op and mutual organisations adding their voice include Georgia Cooperative Development Center, Corn Belt Power Cooperative, Illinois Cooperative Development Center, Cooperative Development Services, North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Northwest Cooperative Development Center, and several mutual water companies.
Other signatories include Native American organisations, state farmers’ unions, universities, development institutes, church group, housing organisations and utilities.