Roundup: More Proposed Cuts at USDA

Rural housing advocates not pleased with proposed budget • Cheaper ways to inspect meat and poultry • Rural Arizona missing out on job growth • Meth has become epidemic in Ohio • Wind energy to spur growth in Iowa? • Rural roads still more dangerous than city streets • Telcos sabotage rural high-speed Internet in California • EPA tries to break into the fracking regulation game

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Rural housing advocates say the president’s proposed 2015 budget is a “race to the bottom” because of cuts in development and housing programs.

This report is from Sarah Mickelson at the National Rural Housing Coalition:

… The President’s FY15 Budget Request demonstrates just how little USDA supports its Rural Development and Rural Housing programs. Overall, the President’s budget proposes an additional $230 million in cuts to critical Rural Development programs, including nearly $160 million in cuts to Water/Wastewater grants, $66 million less for Rural Business programs, and $38 million in cuts to Rural Housing programs. If enacted, Rural Development programs will be cut by nearly $1 billion since 2010.

In many ways, the President’s FY15 Budget Request doubles-down on the terrible Budget Request proposed in FY14. If enacted, nearly all Rural Housing programs would either face further budget cuts or level program funding from the FY14 enacted level. For example, the President requested just $360 million—amounting to a 60 percent reduction—for Section 502 Direct Loans and $10 million—also a 60 percent cut—for Section 523 Mutual Self-Help Housing. The President’s Budget also proposes cuts to the Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization program, from $32.6 million to $28 million, and Section 504 Housing Repair Grants, from $28.7 million to $25 million.

The only Rural Housing program to see a very modest increase (600K) in program levels is Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Loans, which is set at $29 million from $28.4 million.

The remaining Rural Housing programs—including Section 504 Housing Repair Loans, Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing Loans and Grants, and Section 538 Rental Housing Guaranteed Loans—are set at the FY14 enacted rate. The President’s Budget also requests $5.517 million for farmworker housing at the Department of Labor, which is a freeze at the current rate.

Some of the biggest cuts came from the Community Facilities and Water/Wastewater programs. In addition to proposing to cut Community Facilities grants from $29 million to $21 million, USDA requested only $304 million for Water/Wastewater Grants and proposed eliminating of the both the Community Facilities and Water/Wastewater Guaranteed Loan programs. RCDI is eliminated, except for a small tribal college program.

Rental Assistance, on the other hand, was funded at $1.089 billion, which is $21 million less than the FY14 enacted rate. The Budget Request is unclear, so we are still looking into how much of this will be offset by new revenues collected from their proposal to charge tenants a minimum rent of $50, with exceptions for hardship. The budget also gives USDA the authority to decide which tenant contracts are renewed, and it allows USDA to write contracts for less than one-year terms. We fear that USDA will use this flexibility to continue to cut back on its obligations.

These further cuts are only more frustrating when you learn that the President’s FY15 budget calls for new spending, including $13 million for a new Healthy Foods initiative and $2 million for a Southwest Border Regional Commission.

Budget Authority ($ in millions)

FY13 Final*

FY14 Final

FY15 Request

Rural Development

Water/Sewer Grants

524.4

462.37

309

Rural Business

85.9

96.54

30

Community Facilities

28.4

28.75

21

Rural Housing

Section 502 Direct

53.7

24.48

27

Section 502 Guaranteed

0

0

0

Section 515

11.0

6.66

10

Section 538

0

0

0

Section 504

3.8

2.18

4

Multifamily Revital.

27.7

32.50

28

Farm Labor Housing

16.5

13.99

14

Rural Housing Assistance Grants

63

57.2

37

Rental Assistance

907

1,110

1,089

*Prior to a 5% sequestration and 2.5% across-the-board cut

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The budget proposal also cuts USDA’s meat and poultry inspection program. But not to worry, says U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. New inspection methods will make inspections less costly but won’t affect food safety, he said.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service will lose $9.3 million from 2014 levels in the budget proposal, bringing spending to about $1 billion, according to Reuters. “Vilsack said the cut was made possible by a proposal to implement new methods of poultry inspection,” Reuters reported.

Other elements of the USDA budget included increased grants for broadband Internet access for rural communities, and a $50 million research program to strengthen habitats of bees, whose population has been in decline. …

The USDA’s proposed discretionary spending in fiscal 2015 would be $23.7 billion, down $938 million from the enacted 2014 level.

Trimmed or eliminated for 2015 were an international forestry program, public broadcasting grants, certain rural housing grants and water/wastewater grants and loans.

“When you have to fit things into a finite amount of funding, you have to make choices,” Vilsack said. “These are tight budget times.”

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Rural Arizona is missing out on job growth, reports Riis Valcho of KJZZ radio. That’s a topic we’ve covered extensively in the Daily Yonder.

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The production and use of methamphetamines in Ohio has reached epidemic proportions, the state attorney general says, and the problem is worse in rural and more lightly populated areas.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer article looks at the number of meth labs authorities have busted up across the state and finds that smaller cities and less populated areas are seeing a surge in meth production. The geography is a little hard to follow. Many of the counties mentioned in the story are actually in metropolitan statistical areas. But they are outside the urban centers of cities like Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

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Northwest Iowa residents hope wind-energy development will bring some economic activity into the region. Several wind-energy projects are in various phases of development in the wind-rich area. Some residents are worried about the proposals, but the Sioux City Journal says a majority like the idea.

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Another study looks at the disproportionate share of highway fatalities that occur on rural roads. The Ohio Highway Patrol reports that 500 people died in crashes on rural roads since 2010 – more than double the number of fatal wrecks on urban highways.

The report doesn’t control for relative volume of traffic on urban versus rural roads however, so it’s hard to do a comparison.

Nevertheless, the folks who investigate those crashes say prime factors in rural highway deaths are vehicle speed and two-lane roads.

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A $138 million plan to deliver high-speed Internet to 150,000 rural Californians has fallen apart, thanks in part to opposition from major telecommunications companies. Advocates of the broadband plan say the telcos weren’t serving the rural areas adequately.

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The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have much authority to regulating the chemicals injected underground as part of gas-well fracking – or hydraulic fracturing. Last month the agency did move to regulate one of the substances it can control: diesel. The Los Angeles Times reports last month:

The EPA’s new guidance defines five substances as diesel that require a permit for use in fracking.

The agency’s action, however, will have very little overall effect on fracking, since only about 2% of such oil and gas operations in the country use diesel. The new measure also leaves many forms of diesel unregulated.

 

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