Rrual Community Development Block Grants help fund projects like this one in the McCurtain County, Oklahoma, Rural Water District. The project installed and constructed 253 miles of new water transmission and distribution lines, five pump stations and three water storage tanks. (2015 Photo: USDA via Flickr)

Federal housing programs for rural America did well in the final FY 2019 budget agreement, with Congress rejecting the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts.   

All the media and political attention in recent weeks was focused on the president’s border wall demands and the possibility of a second government shutdown.  But lost in that hoopla and sniping was that many government programs still had uncertain funding for the rest of the current fiscal year ending September 30, 2019.   

In the final appropriations package, USDA rural housing programs received level funding or slight increases in most areas above their FY 2018 levels.  The Trump budget proposals from a year ago were to eliminate funding for most of these programs and essentially shut them down.  Congress on a totally bipartisan basis said, forget it.  For example, the Trump budget proposed zero dollars for USDA’s farm labor housing programs.  Congress instead provided $37.5 million for 2019, up from $32 million in 2018.   

The Obama administration also frequently proposed deep cuts in USDA rural housing, and the Congressional appropriators have consistently said no.  Rural champions such as Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) led the way. 

HUD programs are also used in rural America, and there too Congress rejected Trump’s drastic cuts.  For example, the Trump budget called for zeroing out HUD’s HOME and Community Development Block Grant programs.  These are two of HUD’s most important initiatives.  Congress instead kept CDBG at level funding and made a small reduction in HOME.  The Trump proposal for public housing, also an important small-town resource, was to cut those programs from $7.3 billion in 2018 to $3.3 billion in 2019.  Congress instead provided a small increase to $7.4 billion.  One in five of the nation’s 1.3 million public housing units are in rural areas.   

Very soon the appropriations process and the possible fights start all over again, with release of the proposed FY 2020 Trump budget.  Will it be any different?  A related issue is that USDA, as directed by Congress in the recent farm bill, is reinstituting the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development.  The Trump administration early on eliminated this Congressionally-created position and replaced it with an assistant in the office the Secretary of Agriculture.  And once again a Republican-led Congress said no.   

Joe Belden is a writer and consultant based in Washington, D.C.   

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