The federal budget agreement has money for broadband, reforming wildfire funding, conservation programs and more. While the Trump administration proposed deep cuts and program eliminations in several rural program areas, Congress did not go along with those recommendations.
The federal appropriations bill moving through Congress delivers a $143 billion spending boost to both defense and domestic programs. A significant portion of the budget deal addresses rural issues and funding priorities.
The 2,232 page bill is expected to pass both the House and Senate by Friday, avoiding a possible government shutdown and paying for programs and operations through the end of September. The large increase in spending contains few of the cuts proposed by the Trump Administration’s budget released in February, though the deal does include increases in military spending and a portion of the President’s requested border security funding.
Key rural provisions of the funding bill include:
- Rural Broadband: The plan creates a $600 million loan-and-grant program to build broadband capabilities in rural communities. The pilot funding program will be administered by USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.
- Wildfire “Fix”: The budget provides an emergency fund that the U. S. Forest can tap into for fighting wildfire. Rural advocates have long sought a policy fix that provides adequate funding for fighting wildfires while also supporting forest management activities that reduce fire risk.
- Opioid Addiction: The agreement includes $3.3 billion in funding to respond to the opioid epidemic, more than three times the current federal spending for the drug crisis.
- Farm Programs: USDA spending for crop insurance and conservation programs is continued at current levels, the first time there hasn’t been a decrease in these programs in many years. Conservation Operations and Technical Assistance, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Food Safety Outreach Program, Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program all received significant increases in funding over the previous operating budget.
- Cutting Incentives for Farmer Cooperatives: The spending deal ends a provision (the so-called “grain glitch”) included in the Republican tax cut package passed last year that rewards farmers with incentives for selling grain through cooperatives rather than to agribusiness corporations. While many in the agriculture industry support the eradication of these incentives, National Farmers Union says this change will hurt farmers and agricultural cooperatives.
- Rural Housing: A variety of programs that support rural housing are included in the spending bill, both through USDA and through HUD. Section 502 direct homeownership loans, Section 515 direct rental loans and Section 542 vouchers all received increased funding.
- Conservation and Public Lands Funding: The budget deal contains $3 billion over FY17 levels at for the Department of the Interior, increased funding at the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service, $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $1.85 million boost to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.