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."
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.