• Twitter
    • Fan us on Facebook
    • Contact us

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....
read more

Nearly 600 Rural Organizations Signify Opposition to White House Proposal for USDA Reorganization and Budget Request in Advance of Congressional Hearing

Rural Organizations from across the country wrote to Congress, voicing opposition to the Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Under Secretary for Rural Development and funding for rural development programs. Washington, D.C.—June 12, 2017— Today, nearly 600 organizations sent a letter to Congress opposing the Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Under Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The letter also lamented draconian cuts to rural development programs in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget request that would severely impact people from economically distressed rural communities. Signatures came from organizations located all around the country, and included community development organizations; nonprofit housing developers; state and national trade associations; farmer and agriculture cooperatives; affordable housing organizations; city governments; universities; and tribal governments. “Rural Development has a proven track record of success in providing targeted support in the form of technical assistance grants and direct financial assistance to America’s hardworking rural families,” said Bob Rapoza, executive secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition. “Even so, rural Americans still face significant challenges to economic prosperity.” Rural communities have higher poverty rates and higher rates of unemployment when compared to big cities and suburbs. The families living in these areas also face higher incidences of substandard housing and rent overburden. In addition, over 90 percent of the water systems with a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act are small systems with 3,300 or fewer users. The FY 2018 Budget request included substantial cuts – or complete eliminations – to almost all of the programs within the Rural Development mission area. Overall in terms of Budget Authority current Rural Development programs is cut buy $867 million or 31 percent. Specifically, the Rural Business programs and the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, as well as Rural Water and Wastewater Loans and Grants are completely eliminated. In addition, virtually every direct loan or grant program under the Rural Housing Service, including the Mutual Self-Help Housing program, the Section 502 Direct loan program, and the Section 515 Multifamily Housing Loan program, are eliminated as well. The USDA reorganization plan, announced in early May, would eliminate the Under Secretary for Rural Development – the only subcabinet position focused exclusively on assisting low-income rural and farming communities. The proposal claims that this elimination will “elevate” the Rural Development mission area by reporting directly to the USDA Secretary, however the Administration’s FY 2018 Budget request suggests...
read more

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...
read more

Spotlight on the FY 2017 House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bills

This is a moment in time when avoiding disaster with Congress or the Administration is viewed as a success, and seeking even the most modest improvements in policy or resources seems out of the question and hopelessly optimistic.  In light of these conditions, for those interested in improving housing and communities in rural America, the House (H.R.5054) and Senate (S.2956) Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 are, in separate ways, remarkable. Even though both bills had overall allocations amounts less than the enacted level in FY 2016, the FY 2017 bills reported by the Appropriations Committees of both Chambers increased rural housing and rural development spending above the current FY 2016 levels and well above the FY 2017 USDA Budget request.  Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees sought to improve rural housing conditions in their Agriculture Appropriations bills for FY 2017, but by different routes. The House Appropriations bill includes $21.3 billion in discretionary funding, over $450 million lower than the FY 2016 enacted level, and $281 million below the Administration’s request for FY 2017.  Of the total, $2.88 billion of the funding is for rural development programs – more than $110 million more than the level enacted in FY 2016.  The House bill includes $24 billion in loan authority for the Section 502 Single Family guarantee program, and $1 billion for the Section 502 direct loan program – an increase of $100 million over the FY 2016 enacted level, as well as the President’s budget request. This is the first increase in direct homeownership loans in several years. The House bill also provides an increased funding for Mutual and Self-Help Housing Technical Assistance Grants – funding the program at $30 million, which is $2.5 million more than the Senate bill and $12 million more than the Administration’s request. [See chart below: “Section 523 Mutual and Self-Help Housing TA”]. The House Agriculture Appropriations Bill also recommends more funding for Farm Labor Housing programs than the Senate bill.  The House bill includes $8.4 million for Section 516 Farm Labor Housing Grants, which is about $60,000 more than the Senate bill.  The House bill recommends a funding level of $23.9 million for Section 514 Farm Labor Housing loans, which is an increase over the Senate bill ($23.857 million), the Administration’s request ($23.857 million) and the enacted amount for FY 2016...
read more

2016 Omnibus Bill Includes Record Funding For Rural Housing Programs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    Contact: Bob Rapoza National Rural Housing Coalition Phone: (202) 393-5225   2016 Omnibus Bill Includes Record Funding for Rural Housing Programs WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2015 – Yesterday, Congress released the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2016. This bill funds several programs, including the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance, and HOME Investment Partnership Program, above the levels previously included in the House and Senate appropriations bills.  This funding will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the needs of rural communities. “The funding for rural housing programs in this year’s appropriations bill are the highest they have been in recent memory, and at least since the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1992,” said Bob Rapoza, the executive secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition. “In an era of austerity, partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations, local community governments, and the federal government are essential.” Around 46.2 million Americans live in rural communities, and 8.2 million of them live in poverty. NRHC notes that 2.6 million of those people are children under 18.  Concentrated poverty leads to decreases in affordable standard housing, health conditions, and educational outcomes.  Even though housing in rural communities is generally less costly, because of lower incomes, higher poverty rates, limited housing stock, and limited access to credit, many rural Americans live in inadequate and substandard homes. Programs funded by the omnibus will provide the resources needed to develop and preserve affordable rural housing.  Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance payments are made to owners of USDA Section 515 financed rural multi-family homes to subsidize the rent payments of low- and very-low income tenants, who often have no other housing option. The funding level ensures all current very-low income tenants, including many elderly and persons with disabilities, will continue to have a safe, decent place to live. With the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, 8 to 12 low- and very-low income family groups build their own homes with technical assistance and supervision from nonprofit housing organizations.  Self-help families put in an average of 1,189.9 labor hours in constructing their homes, while working regular jobs and caring for their children. The President’s budget proposed a significant cut to the Self-Help program, but Congress rejected this reduction. The omnibus will fund the program at the FY2015 level. The HOME Program, funded at $950 million for FY...
read more

“Spending Turnaround at USDA is Good News for Rural Families”

Bob Rapoza wrote an article on USDA Section 502 spending in FY 2015 that was published by Government Executive today.  In the article, Bob discusses the importance of the home loan program for rural communities, the role that Under Secretary Lisa Mensah played in ensuring the success of the program, and the bipartisan support for the home loan program on the Hill. To read the article, please click here. Bob is the Executive Secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition and the founder and president of Rapoza Associates, a public interest lobbying and government relations firm in...
read more