Former USDA Under Secretary, Lisa Mensah, former Lt. Governor of Kentucky, Crit Luallen, and Congressman Hal Rogers lift a wall at a USDA Mutual Self Help Housing build site with Fahe Member Kentucky Highlands.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a plan to eliminate the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development. The proposed plan would place the responsibilities of Rural Development under a single assistant secretary, who would report to Perdue.

Fahe respectfully disagrees with the decisions of eliminating the position of Under Secretary of Rural Development.

The position of Under Secretary of Rural Development provides leadership for the Rural Housing Service, the Rural Utilities Service, and the Rural Business-Cooperative Service. These services are vital for uplifting the Appalachian region as well as other rural places across America. As a position appointed by the President of the United States, the Under Secretary provides an important voice on rural issues such as affordable housing, water and waste water, community development, broadband, regional food systems, and other important forms of infrastructure. We believe the elimination of the position of Under Secretary of Rural Development would cause a devaluing of these needs and the programs that so many people in rural areas utilize every day to great effect. While an increase in agricultural trade is important, a heavy focus on this area ignores the fact that agriculture makes up only a very small percentage of the rural economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, agriculture accounted for less than 11% of rural earnings in 2014.

There’s a lot of disappointment following this announcement because we have an administration that promised to focus on rural areas but instead is proposing to remove a strong voice for rural affairs and potentially limit the resources that rural people need to grow and thrive. It’s not the progress we were promised but a large step backwards.

Fahe has enjoyed a great relationship with USDA in the past. Together, Fahe and USDA launched public/private partnerships such as the USDA 502 Direct Packaging Partnership and Uplift America that greatly improve the lives of thousands of families in Appalachia. Without the attention and insight from the position of Under Secretary of Rural Development, the 502 Packaging program would not have been as successful in transforming people’s lives and would not have been established as a permanent structure for serving more rural people better. Fahe alone has served 948 families in 18 states with over $116 million of 502 Direct financing thanks to our partnership with USDA.

If we want our rural places to grow and prosper, what we need are more products and services which provide opportunities to partner with USDA, not the removal of a strong advocate or a consolidation of services that will further disenfranchise our nation’s rural places.

Jim King is Fahe’s President and CEO.

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