To the Editor:
The Center for Rural Affairs has fought on behalf of rural communities for nearly 45 years.
We are heartened by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Scott Perdue’s expressions of support for rural communities during his early days in office. However, we are concerned about his current path.
On May 11, Perdue proposed eliminating the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development and moving oversight of Rural Development agencies to the Deputy Secretary, USDA’s second-in-command. If this change is made, we lose the most significant rural advocate within USDA. Rural America stands to suffer as a result.
Although USDA has a broad mission to support food and agriculture, Rural Development is the only body with the explicit directive to support rural communities.
Rural Development’s broad and complex responsibilities include: providing loans for treating wastewater and constructing homes; facilitating innovation and encouraging success in entrepreneurship and small business; and supporting rural broadband access.
This announcement follows President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut USDA’s budget by more than 20 percent. If Perdue truly wishes to support rural America, he should not eliminate the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development nor support deep cuts to the budget. Instead, he should appoint a strong advocate for rural communities to the position, and support a budget that allows Rural Development to carry out its mission.
Rural America deserves a champion who is not distracted by the demands of managing the diverse responsibilities of USDA. By retaining the Undersecretary position, the USDA will be better positioned to work with rural people and achieve a vision for America that includes thriving rural communities and economic opportunity for all.
Anna Johnson, Center for Rural Affairs