Thursday Roundup: USDA Development Cuts

Songs of survival for West, Texas • Wild-horse birth control • Bill suggests set aside for rural fiscal planning • Pennsylvania's rural eductor of the year.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plans to cut costs in the Rural Development program are “not in tune with the needs of rural America,” Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said this week during a congressional hearing on the program’s budget.

“It seems that I’ve seen this budget before and is hard to believe that once again USDA proposes very large cuts for the programs, such as Single Family Direct Loans and Water and Waste Disposal grants, that matter the most in rural America,” Aderholt said. “Instead, the administration seems to have placed its focus on a new $55 million economic development program that has not been reviewed by Congress.”

Aderholt is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. The subcommittee heard testimony from Rural Development Deputy Undersecretary Doug O’Brien Wednesday. Rural Development is tightening its belt in response to a reduced FY 2014 budget request from the administration and sequestration.

Rural Development has cut its staff by 18 percent, or 1,053 workers since FY 2012.

Agri-Pulse reports:

The reductions are expected to save more than $95 million per year in staff costs; however, at some point, [O’Brien] said, the agency risks the integrity of the delivery of programs and services. O’Brien said despite the prudent savings steps, the agency will feel the crunch of sequestration.

“We will have to cut back on essential services,” he said. “The reduced level of program funding will mean that rental assistance will not be available for more than 15,000 very low income rural residents.”

#songsforwest. Musicians have released a collection of songs to raise funds for the community of West, Texas, the site of a massive fertilizer plant explosion. The album is available for download for free. Donations are encouraged. The website says 100% of the money raised through album sales will go to the West Relief Fund at Baylor University.

The project was produced by Houston singer-songwriter Luke Brawner. There are 45 songs from artists such as Robbie Seay and his band, Shane & Shane, Derek Webb, Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay), The Damnwells and Jillian Edwards.

Spaying Wild Horses. The Bureau of Land Management plans to study spaying mares as a way to control the size of the wild horse population in the West, the Denver Post reports.

The BLM is out of room for caring for the horses that it rounds up from public lands. The agency spent $43 million last year to maintain 37,000 wild horses and burros in captivity.

Before starting a program to spay wild mares, BLM will have to figure out whether and how to conduct such procedures in the field. BLM currently uses birth control drugs on the wild horse population, but that program requires rounding up herds at least every two years, because the drugs wear off.

The National Academy of Sciences will be part of the study on spaying wild mares.

Bill Sets Aside Rural Development Funds for Planning. As rural advocates push for protecting federal funding for rural development, a new bill in Congress would set aside 3 to 5% of existing USDA’s Rural Development money to go toward technical assistance and financial planning for rural communities. The funds would come from the Communities Facilities loan and grant program.

U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, introduced the Building Rural Communities Act with co-sponsor Rep. Mike McIntyre, D- N.C.  Southerland says the bill might help rural areas like north Florida plan large-scale capital-improvement projects in a more cost-effective manner.

Pennsylvania Names Rural Educator of the Year. The superintendent of the Mars Area School District has been named Pennsylvania Rural Educator of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Rural & Small Schools.

William Pettigrew has led the school system for 26 years. The area has seen enrollment double during that period. The county is in the midst of a development boom and may not be considered rural much longer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

 

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