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USDA Proposes Revised Definition of 'Rural'

Lawmakers fear new definition will shift funding away from areas of true need.

Published on: Feb 26, 2013

The USDA on Friday released a report proposing that the definition of "rural" be revised to any place with a population of fewer than 50 thousand people, causing concern that the expanded definition could hurt smaller rural communities clamoring for funding through USDA programs.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson said Monday that while they were appreciative of the information contained in the report, they were "disappointed" in USDA's proposals to shift funding away from the most rural areas by inflating the definition across the board.

"This will result in smaller communities competing with larger and more urban areas for funding," the lawmakers said. "In an increasingly tight fiscal environment, careful targeting of scarce funding is critical to ensuring the communities who should benefit from these programs are given priority."

Lawmakers fear new definition will shift funding away from areas of true need.
Lawmakers fear new definition will shift funding away from areas of true need.

The 2008 Farm Bill required USDA to complete the report by June 18, 2010 to assess how the various definitions have impacted rural development programs and to make recommendations on ways to better target funds.

Despite their concerns about funding shifts, and two years after the report was due, the legislators say it will provide useful insights into issues such as how municipal entities are defined in various regions.

"Congress placed a clear emphasis on targeting the most rural areas, with eligibility criteria that emphasizes the need to carefully allocate scarce resources," Peterson and Lucas said in a press statement.

"It is our hope that continued dialogue with our agencies charged with implementing rural programs will yield meaningful and sustainable outcomes that might be used to improve the accessibility and effectiveness of these programs."

Click here to read the full text of the report.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    My first reaction is to ask if the Members of Congress that want to change the definition of rural as any community that has less than 50,000 persons have pressure at home to open the floodgates of funding for communities that do not meet the current criteria. If the thought behind the 50,000 population tag is tied to the HUD definition of 50,000 persons needed to qualify for the "CDBG Entitlement Program" then 50,000 may make sense but only if the USDA changes the grant/loan formulas to more realistic percentages than a mere 5% to 18% of the total project cost as is the situation now. The USDA could better serve rural areas if the grant formulas mirrored HUD CDBG and if the states were allowed to administer the funding programs similar to CDBG. The definition of "rural" means different things regionally. In the Midwest rural traditionally meant that the labor force was primarily agrarian based, the population was less dense than cities, the crime rates were significantly lower, and the quality of life was significantly higher. Additionally, the population is more self sufficient and is more likely to create new companies and new technology per capita than their urban neighbors. More jobs are created by firms with less than 20 employees than those with more than 200. Rural also means less resources, more environmental controls, and inferior public works and infrastructure, especially high speed internet/braodband, that could support job retention and job creation. Unfortunately the likelihood of federal grants to assist development is weighed by the number of votes that can be garnered by the expenditures. One of the most significant moves the USDA could make is to transfer the National Forests out of Interior and start managing the forests as was intended by the Clark McNary Act that created them. The U S Forest Service operates the National Forests as though they were national parks with contigous lands within a common border.National Forests in the Midwest are peppered with lands in private ownership due to the way the forests were first assembled using land abandoned by logging companies in the 1930's. National Forest reports show that the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest only cuts one half of one percent (.005) of their land area annually compared to an average 2% to 3% annual cut done by Wisconsin Counties that have County Forests (Wisconsin DNR documentation). Often these county forest lands lie adjacent to the national forest lands. If the Nicolet National Forest was cut at the same managed rate as the counties an additional $18 million to $20 million per year could be generated and U S woodworking companies wouldn't have to import wood from Canada and Brazil, while driving past stands of hardwoods and conifers left to rot on the stump on their way to work. An outstanding example of proper forest management is the Menominee Tribe of Indians in East-Central Wisconsin. The Menominee Nation started Menomonie Tribal Enterprises (MTE) in the 1950's to manage the forests. Today there is 300% more trees that were there in the 1950's and the boundaries of Menomonie County can be clearly seen from space due to the dense foliage. MTE has grown to be a major employer that draws employees from six Wisconsin counties. If the USDA wants to have a significant impact on rural America they could consider some of the following: Bring the National Forests into compliance with Federal Law (Clark McNary Act) Overhaul the Rural Development loan/grant programs Invest significant funding in manure to electricity programs Invest in the development of small community infrastructure including broadband in small communities Persanally I like the old definition of rural being no parking meters and less than five stop-and-go lights. Bruce Wm Mommaerts, EDFP

  2. Anonymous says:

    That would bring all of Vermont's "cities" under the definition of rural, except for our largest city of Burlington, whose population has climbed above 40,000. We don't view those historic downtowns as rural.

  3. Willie says:

    These days with population growth 50,000 is rural. Their decision was good.