The Office of Rural Development is tasked with improving the quality of life in rural America, and it accomplishes this primarily by providing loans, grants, and general assistance. That help goes toward improving infrastructure for services like water, electric, and communications; social services like healthcare and housing; and setting up friendlier ways for people in rural America to get loans through credit unions, co-ops, and banks. It is the only department in the entire government specifically created to help those in rural America. And, according to an array of rural advocates, new USDA secretary Sonny Perdue is trying to kill it.
The USDA is home to a variety of agencies: Food Safety; Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; Research, Education, and Economics, that kind of thing. Rural Development is one of these, with its own $216 billion budget. Each department head is called an Under Secretary, each of whom reports directly to the Secretary of the USDA.
In a memorandum earlier this month, current USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue reorganized a slew of these agencies and departments, including the dramatic ending of the Office of Rural Development. As Perdue bluntly put it: “The Under Secretary for Rural Development position is hereby abolished.”
As Perdue bluntly put it: “The Under Secretary for Rural Development position is hereby abolished.”
Perdue states that in its place, heads of four departments within the Rural Development agency – the Rural Utilities Service, the Rural Business Service, the Rural Housing Service, and the Chief Risk Office – will report directly to him. The USDA called this an “elevation of rural development,” but a collection of farm and rural groups vehemently disagree.
Abolishing the Under Secretary position removes Rural Development from a seat at the USDA’s subcabinet; any meetings of agency heads within the USDA will no longer have to include anyone from Rural Development. Further, the Under Secretaries are confirmed by the US Senate, and held responsible by Congress to carry out their missions. Rural Development will now have no such responsibility.
Even worse, the rural advocates see this move as part of a larger, disturbing trend of cutting much-needed services and funding to rural America. Trump’s new budget proposes slashing funding to rural business, rural development, local Farm Service agencies around the country, and water and wastewater loan programs. Coupled with what essentially is a demotion of the Rural Development agency, this could mean a huge cut in services, not just to farmers – many of whom voted for Trump – but to anyone who lives in the less-populated parts of the country.
Trump’s budget has yet to pass through Congress, and judging by past initial presidential budgets, it’s exceedingly unlikely to pass in full or even in large part. But Perdue’s de-emphasizing of the Rural Development agency is one of the behind-the-scenes moves that allow Trump to cut funding to the people who really need it.