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Rural Development in the Farm Bill(s)

Last Friday, House Republicans released a discussion draft of their version of the farm bill ahead of their markup this Thursday. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson’s Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 is the first full version of the bill to be shared publicly, as Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow’s Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act remains a section-by-section summary.  

Rural development programs are covered in Title VI of the farm bill. The rural development titles of the House and Senate’s respective bills contain a wide range of provisions on broadband, healthcare and childcare, rural water systems, workforce development, entrepreneurial assistance, and more. Below is a sampling of major provisions from each chamber’s rural development title:  

House of Representatives

Broadband: Reforms the ReConnect rural broadband program by changing eligibility speeds and clarifying eligible applicants. The bill reauthorizes the Middle Mile, Community Connect, Innovative Broadband Advancement, and Distance Learning and Telemedicine programs. It also Codifies the Broadband Technical Assistance Program and allows entities to receive technical assistance for all USDA broadband programs.

Healthcare and Childcare: Codifies the Rural Hospital Technical Assistance Program and provides certain health care facilities the ability to refinance certain debt obligations. The bill also establishes a 3-year rural childcare initiative at USDA to prioritize Community Facilities projects that address the availability, quality, and cost of childcare.

Workforce and Business Development: Reauthorizes the Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant program and provides funding for career pathway programs in a variety of industries. It also reauthorizes the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) Program, and the Rural Business Investment Program.

Rural Utilities: Codifies the Circuit Rider Program, which provides technical assistance for rural water systems. The bill also reauthorizes the Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program and the Rural Energy Savings Program.

Miscellaneous: Excludes USDA Rural Development programs from certain NEPA permitting.


Broadband: Dedicates 5% of ReConnect funding to provide technical assistance and training. This bill also reauthorizes Middle Mile, Community Connect, and Innovative Broadband Advancement.

Healthcare and Childcare: Prioritizes Community Facilities funding for healthcare and behavioral health facilities, as well as Distance Learning and Telemedicine funding for projects that provide substance use disorder prevention, treatment, or recovery services. It also Requires a set aside of at least 10% of Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan funding to support childcare programs and healthcare.

Workforce and Business Development: Establishes a Rural Partnership Program to fund multiyear capacity building projects on a formula basis for states, as well as a competitive grant program to provide technical assistance. It also adds workforce housing as an eligible project for Business and Industry loan guarantees and specifies that certain Tribal entities or corporations are eligible.

Rural Utilities: Specifies that Tribal entities are eligible for Water, Waste Disposal, and Wastewater Facility grants (as well as for the Rural Decentralized Water Systems Program), allows the Secretary to waive the 25% match requirement for predevelopment and development costs in areas with demonstrated need and increases the programs authorization of appropriations to $30 million annually (along with the Circuit Rider Program). The bill also establishes a program to provide grants for water quality testing, purchase, and installation of point-of-use or point-of-entry water filtration systems that remove or significantly reduce health contaminants from drinking water.

Miscellaneous: Permanently authorizes the Rural Partners Network. It also establishes an Interagency Task Force on Outdoor Recreation coordination and a Food Supply Chain Grant and Guaranteed Loan Program.

Outside of the rural development provisions, disagreements over changes to nutrition and climate programs have largely stalled negotiations in both chambers. Democratic leaders are now asking House Democrats to not support Thompson’s farm bill, and to instead back Chair Stabenow’s version of the bill. If each chamber is ultimately able to able pass its own version of the farm bill, conferees are in for a difficult conference, unless leadership is able to reach an agreement beforehand. Either way, passage of a farm bill before the end of the 118th Congress will likely require substantial compromise from both parties.


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