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Funding for Rural America Matters

 

Three hundred seventy-three organizations and 657 individuals have signed onto a letter in support of funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) programs that provide essential assistance to America’s rural and small town communities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

The FY 2017 House and Senate Agriculture Appropriation Bills, H.R. 5054 and S. 2956 respectively, provided funding for USDA’s Rural Housing Service (RHS) and water and wastewater programs that would allow RD and its nonprofit partner organizations to continue to improve access to affordable and safe housing and community facilities for families in rural America. The sign-on letter asks for the House and Senate Appropriation Committees to support the funding levels included in their FY 2017 bills.

Specifically, the letter identifies several program priorities, including the Section 502 Direct Home Loan program, the Section 523 Mutual Self-Help Housing program, Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Loan program, Sections 514 and 516 Farmworker Housing Loan and Grant programs, and the water and wastewater loan and grant programs.

The Section 502 Direct Loan program exclusively targets rural families who earn less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), and by law, 40 percent of all program funds must be used to help families earning less than 50 percent of AMI. In FY 2016 alone, RHS provided over 7,000 loans and the demand for this program continues to grow. The letter recommends a program level of $1 billion for the Section 502 Direct Loan program. This is the amount provided in H.R. 5054, and a $100 million increase over the FY 2016.

The Section 523 Mutual Self-Help Housing program provides grants to qualified organizations to oversee and provide technical assistance to local self-help housing construction projects for low- and very-low income families. The grantees oversee small groups of 6 to 12 families that come together on nights and weekends to build their own homes. In doing so, Self-Help Housing families can reduce construction costs, earn equity in their homes, and build lasting communities. Self-Help Housing encourages self-reliance and hard work, helps families build wealth, stimulates local economies, and is in high demand with over 50,000 families currently on wait lists for the program. This program has a proven record of helping low- and very-low income families achieve homeownership. The letter recommends funding Section 523 at $30 million, which is the level included in H.R. 5054.

RHS also includes programs that provide much-needed access to affordable rental housing. Today, approximately 416,000 rural seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income families—earning just $13,600 each year on average—live in rental housing financed with USDA Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Loans. The letter recommends funding the Section 515 program at $40 million for FY 2018, as included in S. 2956.

S. 2956 also included several other notable changes to the Section 515 program that are designed to develop solutions to address the issues created by maturing 515 mortgages. The provisions direct the Secretary to implement provisions and provide incentives to facilitate the transfer of USDA multifamily properties to nonprofit organization and public housing authorities. The Senate bill further recommends a new pilot program for grants to qualified non-profit organizations and public housing authorities to provide technical assistance to USDA multifamily housing borrowers to facilitate the acquisition of RHS multifamily properties by non-profit housing organizations and public housing authorities. The letter recommends the inclusion of these provisions for FY 2018.

The Section 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing Loan and Grant programs provide critical low-cost loans and grants to help build, improve, and preserve affordable housing for America’s farmworkers, who suffer from extremely high levels of poverty and who frequently live in substandard, crowded conditions. The letter requests funding for the Farm Labor Housing programs at $8.4 million for Section 516 grants and $23.8 million for Section 514 loans for FY 2018 – these levels were included in both H.R. 5054 and S. 2956, and are consistent with the funding levels in past years.

Finally, USDA’s Water and Wastewater programs also provide critical resources to rural communities with severely limited access to a clean and affordable water supply. Communities along the U.S./Mexico border, on Native American lands, and in the Appalachian region are at an especially high risk of water insecurity, as are communities with a high number of farm workers. Without access to USDA’s Water and Wastewater loans and grants, rural communities are often unable to meet the basic health and development needs of its residents. In recognition of this great need, the letter recommends $546 million for water-waste water loans and grants, as included in S. 2956.

To read the letter and see the list of signers, please click here for the letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee and Agriculture Subcommittee Chairmen and Ranking Members, and here for the letter to the House Appropriations Committee and Agriculture Subcommittee Chairmen and Ranking Members.