Last Friday, USDA released a report on the various definitions of "rural" used in programs administered by the agency. In it, USDA proposed revising the definition of rural to any place with a population of fewer than 50,000 people. The 2008 Farm Bill required USDA to complete this report by June 18, 2010 to assess how the various definitions have impacted rural development programs and to make recommendations on ways to better target funds. Today, Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson issued the following statement in response to the report.
"We are pleased that, more than two and a half years after it was due, USDA has finally fulfilled its statutory obligation to report on how the various definitions of rural have impacted our rural development programs. The report offers useful insights into issues such as how municipal entities are defined in various regions. But, we are disappointed in USDA's proposals to shift funding away from the most rural areas by inflating the definition across the board. This will result in smaller communities competing with larger and more urban areas for funding.
"In an increasingly tight fiscal environment, careful targeting of scarce funding is critical to ensuring the communities who should benefit from these programs are given priority. Congress placed a clear emphasis on targeting the most rural areas, with eligibility criteria that emphasizes the need to carefully allocate scarce resources.
"It is our hope that continued dialog with our agencies charged with implementing rural programs will yield meaningful and sustainable outcomes that might be used to improve the accessibility and effectiveness of these programs."