On April 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America.”
The executive order includes seven sections. Section 1 outlines the importance of having a secure and affordable food, fiber, and forestry supply for the country, and that the promoting rural communities is in the national interest. Section 1 also states that it is in the country’s interest to ensure that regulatory burdens do not hamper food, agricultural production, and job creation in rural communities.
Section 2 calls for the creation of the “Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity,” which will be funded and administratively supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as permitted by law and appropriations. Section 3 details the membership of the task force. The USDA Secretary will serve as the Chair.
Section 4 provides the purpose of functions of the task force. The task force is directed to identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes to promote rural America. There are 13 general issues that are identified in the executive order. These include advancing the adoption innovative technology for agriculture production and sustainable rural development, expanding educational opportunities in rural areas, empowering state and local agencies to tailor their rural economic development and agriculture programs to meet their region’s need, promote the preservation of family farms and agribusinesses, and improve food safety, among others.
The remaining sections are administrative in nature, with Section 5 directing the USDA Secretary to submit a report to the President within 180 days on the task force’s recommendations on policy or legislative changes. Section 6 revokes the executive order signed by President Obama establishing the White House Rural Council. Section 7 provides that the executive order does not affect the existing authority of any department or agency, current law, or confer any new rights or benefits.
While the task force is directed to identify changes in policy or law that will “promote . . . economic development, . . . infrastructure improvements, . . . and quality of life” and the executive order includes 13 enumerated areas of focus, notably absent is any explicit directive on – or reference to – rural housing and water and wastewater services. There is no mention of housing or homeownership or rental housing, and the only reference to “water” relates to water users’ private property rights.
Additionally, although the executive order states that the task force should “respect the unique circumstances of small businesses that serve rural communities,” the President’s skinny budget for 2018 calls for the elimination of the USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBCS). The RBCS offers programs that support business growth development and job training opportunities for rural Americans by partnering with private sector local lenders and community based organizations to provide much needed capital in rural areas. RCBS also has several cooperative programs to help rural residents develop ways to create new systems to distribute their products and supplies and improve existing systems through education and technical assistance.
Addressing the economic and community development needs of rural America will require a holistic approach. And while the task force is directed to “remove barriers to economic prosperity and quality of life in rural America,” the enumerated policy points focus almost entirely on agricultural production and agribusiness. A “reliable workforce” for those rural businesses must have access to safe, clean, and affordable housing, water systems, and community facilities.