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What Happened on the Way to the Trump Budget for Rural Development — The Story So Far

The drumbeat for a dramatic re-ordering of federal rural development policy came with the release of the Trump Administration’s so-called “Skinny Budget” for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 in March. “Skinny” because it was short on details, the first budget of the Trump era proposed a $54 billion reduction in domestic discretionary spending with an increase of the same amount for the Pentagon. It also proposed a $30 billion increase in defense for the current fiscal year (2017), financed in part by unspecified reductions totaling $18 billion from domestic programs. For the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 21 percent, or $5 billion reduction was offered that included elimination of rural water/wastewater loans and grants (so much for infrastructure financing), elimination of the Rural Business-Cooperative Service and its programs,  and a big reduction ( 50 percent) in Rural Development staffing. In early May, Congress ignored most of the Trump budget request and approved the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill, which included increases in direct homeownership loans, Mutual Self-Help Housing grants, and rental housing programs. Congress provided the White House some of the defense money, but nowhere near the budget request and did not cut domestic programs. On May 23, the White House rolled out its full blown FY 2018 budget. The budget proposed a 37 percent reduction in community development programs at Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Commerce, and USDA. The budget included elimination of 24 different rural development programs. Overall in terms of Budget Authority (BA) rural development was cut by $867 million or 31 percent. Rural Business programs and the Rural Business and Cooperative Service were eliminated.  Rural Utility programs fell from $8 billion to $6.2 billion, principally due to the elimination of about in rural water-sewer loans ($1 billion) and grants ($480 million).  BA for housing programs dropped from $1.6 billion to $1.36 billion. Virtually every direct rural housing loan and grant program, including Section 502 Direct, Section 504 loan and grants, Section 523 Mutual Self-Help Grants, Section 515, and Section 514/516 Farmworker Housing Loans and Grants, were zeroed out in the budget. Section 521 Rental Assistance, while not eliminated, was funded at $1.345 billion – a $60 million dollar decrease from the FY 2017 rate. Left in the wake of these proposals was a few million more here or there for loan guarantees for multifamily housing and a small increase in community facility lending....
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Infrastructure Includes Substandard Housing

The lack of adequate water and waste disposal systems is a major infrastructure need of rural America and it is directly link to another pressing infrastructure need – substandard housing. Most violations of federal drinking water standards are made by small communities with limited resources to dedicate to compliance.  Small and rural drinking water systems constitute nearly 85 percent of the 53,000 community water systems in America. The 2013 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Drinking Needs Assessment indicated a national need of $64.5 billion for small community water systems.[1] This represents 17.4 percent of total national need. The lack of adequate water and waste water systems has a direct impact on the quality of housing. The American Community Survey found that almost 630,000 occupied households in the country lack complete plumbing facilities – meaning they do not have one of the following: a toilet, tub, shower or running water. President Trump proposed to triple funding for EPA’s Safe Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), which would make $6 billion available. However while approximately 96 percent of all health-based violations occur in systems serving a population of less than 10,000, less than a third of the SRF outlays are directed at these same small systems. Thus, this proposal would not meet the needs of America’s small towns. The National Rural Housing Coalition has recommended that 20 percent of the new proposed level of funding for EPA’s SRFs be transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for use in its water and waste disposal loan and grant program and Sections 504 and 533 repair programs. USDA’s Water and Sewer loan and grant financing program is a key component of economic development in rural America.  The agency boasts a portfolio of more than 18,000 active water/sewer loans, more than 19 million rural residents served, and a delinquency rate of just 0.18 percent.  USDA is better equipped to address rural community facilities needs than state SRFs. With the USDA Section 504 Loan and Grant program and the Section 533 Housing Preservation Grant program, rural communities have been able to address substandard housing needs that stem from a lack of adequate plumbing. These programs can provide critical assistance to shore up this infrastructure. For example, with an expanded HPG grant of $400,000 and $370,000 in leveraged funds, Self-Help Enterprises in California provided basic health and safety improvements and drill on-site water wells...
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Achieving the American Dream through Programs that Work

Alton and Robin Alexander lived in Western Michigan with their two daughters in a comfortable, modest and safe neighborhood prior to the Great Recession. However, as the nation’s economy struggled, this family of four lost their home and was forced to move into a substandard rental unit. The Alexanders’ story is not unique. Homeownership is considered a central tenet of the American Dream, but its value to families and communities is sometimes overlooked. June is National Homeownership Month, which shines a spotlight on the value of homeownership. For many low and moderate income rural families, homeownership is only possible through financing from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service programs. In Fiscal Year 2015 alone, USDA Rural Development awarded $900 million Section 502 direct single-family housing loans and made more than $18.6 billion Section 502 guarantees to help more than 141,000 rural American families become homeowners. One of those families is Jeff, a single father, and his four children in Morristown, Tennessee. Back injuries limited Jeff’s ability to work and the family lived in a doublewide trailer. Eventually the family moved in to affordable rental housing owned and maintained by Clinch-Powell RC&D, a Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises (FAHE) Member. With assistance from Clinch-Powell, Jeff applied for a Section 502 Direct loan. FAHE helped prepare the application. Jeff and his children will soon be moving into their new home. The Section 502 direct program is also an essential tool for the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, where groups of six to 12 families are paired together to help build each other’s houses with technical assistance from non-profit organizations. This program, which includes more than 100 Self-Help Grantee Organizations in 40 states and territories, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015, and has helped more than 50,000 families build their own homes. The Self-Help housing program is bigger than just homeownership: through the technical assistance from organizations like the Coachella Valley Housing Corporation (CVHC), this program allows families to gain financial stability and builds communities where children can thrive. For example, in Mecca, California, CVHC helped the Rodriquez family, including four children, move from their dilapidated rental apartment into a safe, clean rental complex, and eventually to become homeowners through the Mutual Self Help program. Juan Rodriguez, one of those children, went on to graduate from UC Berkeley, and now helps CVHC improve the community he grew up in. The success...
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