This Congress is one of the most conservative in nearly a generation. As such, much of the budget and spending policies have focused on cuts, while the liberal Administration fights to increase funding for federal programs. Rural development is one area where Congress and the Administration traded places. While the Administration has cut programs for Rural America time and again, Congress has fought for better funding, steadily increasing them from $2.177 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 to $2.77 billion in FY 2016.
Rural communities, often envisioned as bucolic, picturesque examples of the American Dream—featuring houses complete with picket fences and regular family dinners—are in reality grappling with extreme poverty and homelessness. More than 85 percent of persistently poor counties are non-metropolitan, and American Community Survey reports that as of 2014 there was an 18 percent poverty rate for those living in such areas.
A lack of good, affordable housing, a characteristic of persistently poor counties, exacerbates the financial situation for rural, low-income people. Faced with spending large portions of their income on their rent or mortgage, these families have difficulty purchasing healthy food and often live in communities with poor water or waste disposal systems.
Fortunately, Congress is working to ensure more funds are invested in programs for affordable rural housing, which provide low-income people in rural communities with more access to safe and affordable housing options. In fact, between 2013 and 2016, Congress increased U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rural development spending over the budget request by some $470 million.
Further, the FY 2017 House Appropriations Committee recommended level of $2.883 billion represents a 35 percent increase from the FY 2013 appropriated level and adds in money for low income homeownership loans, mutual and self-help housing and grants for water systems for small communities.
This trend of increasing funding to programs that directly benefit rural communities is thanks in large part to Members of Congress from both parties. In the House of Representatives, particularly notable advocates are Appropriations Committee Chairman Rogers (R-KY), Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Adterholt (R-AL), Ranking Subcommittee Member Farr (D-CA), Representative Ruben HinojosaRuben Elroy HinojosaTurning the tables to tackle poverty and homelessness in rural America Ethics: Lawmakers didn’t ‘knowingly’ break rules with Azerbaijan gifts Dems heap praise on Pelosi for trade moves MORE (D-TX) and Representative Sean DuffySean DuffyFirst lady's press secretary calls on Rachel Campos Duffy, Fox News to apologize for host's comments Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans Ron Johnson: 'I may not be the best candidate' for 2022 midterms MORE (R-WI).
Bob Rapoza is Founder and President of Rapoza Associates