Last week, President Biden visited a farm in Dakota County, Minnesota to announce over $5 billion investments in rural communities across five Department of Agriculture initiatives and programs. The announcement coincided with a series of additional administration engagements to promote these (and likely future) investments. Almost exactly a year out from the 2024 general election, the announcement signals a clear effort by the White House to court rural communities – call it a charm offensive for rural America.
Here’s a breakdown of the USDA funding:
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP): $1.1 billion investment across 81 projects through the RCPP, which aims to expand the reach of conservation efforts and climate-smart agriculture through public-private partnerships. On top of the RCPP funding, the administration is providing an additional $100 million through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP); $250 million through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP); and $250 million through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Rural Energy for America Program (REAP): While the majority of $145 million is going to agricultural producers, there are several noteworthy exceptions. For example, a grant to install a solar array for camping facilities in Viola, Arkansas.
Rural jobs and Infrastructure: This funding is being administered in 3 buckets: 1) Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentives Program, 2) Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee Program, and 3) Water and Waste Disposal Loans and Grants. Loans make up over $1.017 billion of the funding, leaving $124 million for grants (most of which are to supplement loans for water projects).
Reconnect: These grants are going to cooperatives, telecomms, and tribes in Alaska, Arizona (2), Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico (3), Oklahoma (4), and Texas (2).
Rural Partners Network (RPN): The $2 billion being administered through the RPN is comprised of several of the grant programs above, solid waste management grants, value-added producer grants, rural cooperative development grants, and more. There are also 12 community facilities projects, most of which are to replace vehicles for local fire departments.
These investments underscore the argument that opportunities for rural communities to engage Congress and the administration remain. With the Farm Bill passage being pushed to late 2024, stakeholders have an extended window to advocate for their rural development priorities. On the regulatory front, USDA Rural Development is in the process of soliciting feedback and updating regulations to improve its Community Development Facilities Program. Simplified application processes for smaller projects, refinancing rural hospital debt, expanding eligibility to include outdoor recreation and workforce housing projects, and more are on the docket. USDA is accepting written comments until December 8th and revised regulations are expected next Spring.
As the remaining legislative days in the first session of the 118th Congress tick down, stakeholders should review and reorganize their priorities and engagement strategies going into the holiday season.