On Monday (Feb. 25), House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas and ranking member Collin Peterson issued the following statement in response to the recent release of a USDA report on the various definitions of “rural” used in programs administered by the agency. The 2008 Farm Bill required USDA to complete this report by June 18, 2010, to assess how the various definitions have impacted rural development programs and to make recommendations on ways to better target funds.

“We are pleased that, more than two and a half years after it was due, USDA has finally fulfilled its statutory obligation to report on how the various definitions of rural have impacted our rural development programs. The report offers useful insights into issues such as how municipal entities are defined in various regions. But, we are disappointed in USDA’s proposals to shift funding away from the most rural areas by inflating the definition across the board. This will result in smaller communities competing with larger and more urban areas for funding.

"In an increasingly tight fiscal environment, careful targeting of scarce funding is critical to ensuring the communities who should benefit from these programs are given priority. Congress placed a clear emphasis on targeting the most rural areas, with eligibility criteria that emphasizes the need to carefully allocate scarce resources.

"It is our hope that continued dialog with our agencies charged with implementing rural programs will yield meaningful and sustainable outcomes that might be used to improve the accessibility and effectiveness of these programs.”

On Tuesday morning (Feb. 26), the committee adopted the budget views and estimates letter which outlines the committee's budget recommendations for the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction for fiscal year 2014. The letter will be submitted to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as required by section 301(d) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, as well as House Rule X, clause 4(f).

In the letter, Lucas and Peterson write:

"[T]he Committee on Agriculture is dedicated to ensuring that the federal government continues to promote policies and risk management tools that will keep American agriculture and rural communities strong and our citizens healthy and safe. We also know that this country continues to face a fiscal crisis that, if not addressed, will not only harm the agricultural sector and rural America, but the country as a whole. The agriculture sector wants to be a part of the solution to our nation's debt crisis....

"Recognizing the dire fiscal situation this country is in, we developed a bipartisan farm bill last summer that would have contributed substantially to deficit reduction while simultaneously reforming policies and providing risk management tools for the nation's agricultural producers. The committee looks forward to continued hearings and input from Members to achieve the most fiscally responsible farm bill."

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.