Posts Tagged ‘Rural America’

After Thought

Friday, May 12th, 2017

 [Editor’s Note: During the Reagan Administration I was responsible for rural development policy based at the U. S. Department of Agriculture.]

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue went to an urban city (Cincinnati) to tell rural citizens and communities he was upgrading the department’s rural development agency. His spin was the program would report directly to him.  Who is he kidding?

Best guess is Perdue will create a “special assistant” position of which there are hundreds in Washington to oversee the programs of rural business, housing & utilities. Prior to Perdue’s action there was an Undersecretary for Rural Development to promote the cause of non-farm Rural America inside the department and on Capitol Hill.  He eliminated the Undersecretary position yesterday.

Even with an Undersecretary for Rural Development it was hard to get a few minutes of the Secretary’s time. Rural Development has always been the “red headed step child” at USDA.  Now what?

Why is it important to have an Undersecretary for Rural Development? First, it requires Senate confirmation and without it there is far less accountability to Congress.  Also, the position of an Undersecretary has much more clout to make the case for non-farm Rural America inside the department and on Capitol Hill.  Besides the title Undersecretary commands much more media and attention.

By the way. Congress passed the Rural Development Act of 1972.  Basically this legislation gave the responsibility to Department of Agriculture to coordinate rural development throughout the Federal government.  Now what?

Rural community leaders, economic development organizers, national state & local organizations and advocates of rural lifestyle need to get involved. The only hope to turn back this effort is for Congress to say no.

Social media gives us as rural advocates an opportunity to organize. Tweet your concern using the hashtag #saveruraldevelopment .  Post on Facebook your story about how your community has benefited from the rural development programs.  Email or write your Member of Congress to #saveruraldevelopment.

At Trump’s Elbow

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

[Editor’s Note: During the Reagan Administration I was responsible for rural development policy based at the U. S. Department of Agriculture.]

President Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was sitting at the elbow of President Trump in the White House about the time he released a welcoming message to USDA employees. I had an opportunity to read the Secretary’s email and was taken back, since never once did he use the word “rural” or “Rural America.”  I repeat “never.”  Just think – he was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as The President was establishing an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity  – which Secretary Perdue will lead.

Rural America sent a message in 2016 that Rural America it counts. That message may have been lost on Secretary Perdue but not President Trump.  About 20 percent of the country lives in rural America, just less than 60 million people.  Exit polling showed rural voters made up 17 percent of the electorate.  Hillary Clinton lost rural America 3 to 1.

Politico had a piece after Trump’s victory entitled “Revenge of the Rural Voter” which I hope Secretary Perdue will read. But once he gets to USDA he will be captured by the agriculture interests who have little or no interested in nonfarm Rural America.  There are more small town residents….than there are farmers.

After soaking in the Politico story I posted on Facebook my hope the Trump administration would pay attention to the voice of the 2016 rural voters and seek out a rural development advocate to lead USDA. There is still hope that Secretary Perdue will be that advocate and follow the example set by President Trump.


Sunday, December 9th, 2012

(Editor’s Note: I served in the US Department of Agriculture as Director of the Office of Rural Development Policy.  Likewise, worked for Members of Congress who served on House of Representatives Agriculture Committee and the Public Works Committee that handled legislation related to economic development.) 

It is outrageous the person who is charged as the number one advocate for rural America would say “It’s becoming less and less relevant.”  That is exacting what Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a farm forum in Washington over the weekend.

Even worst he based his reasoning on politics.  Vilsack said rural Americans need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.  This came after Republican Mitt Romney won 61 percent of rural voters last month and President Obama was backed by 37 percent.

It appears Secretary Vilsack is looking for a scapegoat as to why his leadership was unable to get a farm bill through Congress in an election year.  “It isn’t just the differences of policy… but that Congress doesn’t understand farm issues the Secretary said.  “There is a huge communication gap between farms and the food-eating public”, he said.  Well whose fault is that?

The Agriculture Secretary should get to Capitol Hill and fill that gap.  He should educate the Members and staff about rural America.  That is the way it used to work.

More distributing to me is how Vilsack has failed rural America in other ways.  Particularly when it is well known he has made revitalization of rural America a priority.  His own Department says about 50 percent of rural counties have lost population in the past four years and poverty rates are higher there than in metropolitan areas, despite the booming agricultural economy.

Secretary Vilsack should be advocating strong new public policy to address the current and past plight of non-farm rural American…in places like West Virginia.

It has been the rural development groups making the case for a strong Rural Development Title in the Farm Bill not Secretary Vilsack.  Last August these organizations sent a letter to Congress attempting to make policy changes to benefit non-farm rural America.  Vilsack backed their efforts but he is the one charged by various congressional acts (going back to 1972 and before) to standup and fight for rural America not just back the efforts of others.

The sad part of my outrage is that when reading the rural development titles of both the Senate and House farm bills nothing has changed.  It is just minor tinkering around the edges.

When are we going to get leadership at the US Department of Agriculture who will take serious what Congress has ask them to do and become an advocate for rural America?