On foundations and the ‘red-lining’ of rural America…

“Can we say the foundations now working on economic development might be something rural America could fall back on? Well, in 2010, the major national foundations gave $46 billion. Only one percent of that went to rural America. One percent! That’s a rural red-lining.

“Some foundations have argued for years that the government is red-lining certain populations. Well, that one percent is a de facto red-lining of rural America.

“This is huge because you’re talking about the public trust. These foundations, their boards, executives and donors are receiving huge tax advantages for creating a public good. But the reality is if your proportion of that public good as a rural region is only one percent of total national philanthropy we must ask if the public trust is being violated. Is it worth the proportion of tax revenues we’ve lost in the tax structure? Well, it certainly is if you’re getting that money – but rural America is getting one percent.”

On another disparity…

“Unlike metropolitan areas, rural areas don’t get Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) as a right. If you have a population of 50,000 you have a ‘place entitlement’ to money from the federal government. Without that population you must compete at the state level. At this point, rural areas need community development much more than do central cities. 

“Outside CDBG, what is going on in other federal programs? Again, there is a $600 per capita disadvantage and the philanthropic sector is giving rural areas one percent of their total payout. It’s obvious why rural America isn’t doing as well.

“Let’s look at rural Kansas and the Bronx in New York. In the Bronx, massive federal monies and large foundations are producing multiple grants for multiple developments of urban centers. Rural Kansas has none of that.”

So maybe the farm bill should be considered along with, say, the transportation bill?

“Exactly! We aren’t cross-walking investments nearly well enough in rural regions.

“We have to figure out how to align federal government programs better. That way there won’t be 22 programs that require you to apply 22 times to get into them. That is getting better.

“At the state level, legislatures and counties must work smarter.

“Third, we must create something that’s much more regional in scale. There just isn’t enough money for every town and county to this. I wish there was but we must make smarter decisions.

“All this is beginning to happen. Southeast Kansas communities are banding together to do it. The Kansas Farm Bureau has been fantastic on this and they’ve been out in front on it. As an outgrowth of these things, the national Farm Bureau actually now has an RD department doing good work.

“Similar work has just begun in a 10-county area of northwest Missouri. (Agriculture Secretary Tom) Vilsack and I were there about a month ago, in St. Joe, and 500 people showed up.

“One key is to find rural leadership to move in that direction.”

Why Fluharty is encouraged and what rural citizens should do to change the dynamic…

“Before, I was asking that this regional approach be adopted because it was the right thing to do for rural America. Now, it’s the only thing to do. So, it will be seen more and more.

“Rural agriculture must get involved to push this. They need to engage the farmer advocacy and commodity groups – Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, NCGA, NCC, all of them. Agriculture is key because the reality is there isn’t a collective voice for rural America like there is for agriculture. I’d argue that agriculture needs to pick up the flag and lead the charge. Each of these issues affect the ability of the next farming generation’s to stay in rural towns.

“Rural America must engage with their elected officials, especially heading into the next farm bill. I’m very encouraged by the commitment of (Kansas Sen. Pat) Roberts, ranking member, to this.

“We must keep the pressure on the government and ask about the huge discrepancy between per capita money provided to rural areas and urban areas. That number is disturbing and shows there’s something very wrong. You could argue that a $200 or $300 difference is acceptable. But $600? No way.”