Congresswomen Bustos and Blunt Rochester Lead 22 Democrats in Effort to Protect Job-Creating Programs in Rural Communities and Small Towns from Trump Administration

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue Testified on Wednesday that he’d maintain current oversight of the USDA’s $29 billion Rural Development Program and later claimed he had “misspoken”

WASHINGTON – Today Congresswomen Cheri Bustos (IL-17) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL) led 22 additional Democrats in sending a letter to United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him not to undermine the USDA’s Rural Development program. In addition to the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut USDA funding by 21 percent, they also proposed diminishing the role of the Rural Development, which is the only portion of the USDA tasked with providing economic development and job creating funds to small towns and rural communities.

Specifically, the USDA is eliminating the Senate-confirmed position of Undersecretary of Rural Development. Instead, Secretary Perdue can choose a Trump appointee to run a program that spent $29 billion last year without any external input or oversight in the decision. And, by eliminating the Undersecretary position while keeping 7 other Undersecretaries, it means USDA is minimizing the role of a program that helped about 112,000 rural small businesses grow while creating or saving an estimated 450,000 jobs in small communities across our country.

In his testimony before the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Congresswoman Bustos pressed Secretary Perdue on this issue. Much to her welcome surprise, Perdue revised his position by stating the head of Rural Development would undergo the Senate-confirmation process as they always have.

Later in the hearing, Congresswoman Blunt Rochester asked Secretary Perdue about this issue once more to make 100 percent sure he meant what he said. Once again, he said Rural Development would be led by a Senate-confirmed staffer.

A few hours later however, Secretary Perdue later indicated he had “misspoken” – putting job creation and small business growth in rural America on the back burner once again.

Below is the letter from Congresswomen Bustos, Blunt Rochester and 22 of their colleagues.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A SIGNED COPY OF THE LETTER.

Below is the text of the letter:

 

May 19, 2017

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Whitten Federal Building

1400 Independence Avenue

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue,

Thank you for testifying before the House Agriculture Committee yesterday on the scope and importance of issues under the purview of the Department of Agriculture.  We share your commitment to rural America and look forward to working with you on behalf of the constituents we all serve.

As you know, Rural Development is the only mission area at USDA focused exclusively on improving the economy and quality of life in rural and small town America.  Rural Development has approximately 5,000 staff, delivers more than $29 billion in investments through their programs annually, and manages a loan portfolio valued at more than $216 billion – roughly equal to the 14th largest bank. These programs help provide financing and support for local businesses and construction of key infrastructure in these communities including providing clean water systems, electrification, broadband, rural hospitals, police stations, nursing homes, and even fire trucks and emergency sirens. Perhaps most importantly, during the last Administration, Rural Development was credited with helping about 112,000 rural small businesses grow, creating or saving an estimated 450,000 jobs.

Managing the tens of billions of dollars that flow through Rural Development every year is a great responsibility which requires stringent oversight and accountability to ensure taxpayers are being protected and funding is distributed with impartiality. We are concerned because demoting this position from a Senate-confirmed Undersecretary to a non-confirmed political appointee has the potential to undermine both the credibility and transparency of a program with a proven record of results in small towns and rural communities across our nation.

This is why, during Wednesday’s Agriculture Committee Hearing, we questioned you on this concern during separate exchanges.

During your exchange with Rep. Bustos, you said Rural Development would be headed by an “Assistant Secretary.” You added, “if it makes you feel better to call that person Undersecretary, then enjoy that” and stated “that person will be Senate-confirmed in that area, so you’ll have an opportunity to visit with that person and ask them all those questions.”

Later, Rep. Blunt Rochester followed up on that exchange by asking if “the Undersecretary was Senate-confirmed and this would be appointed?” You replied “our expectation is that this assistant secretary would be confirmed as well.”

We were very pleased to hear that you had changed your mind and decided to maintain the head of Rural Development as a Senate-confirmed undersecretary position.

However, later in the day, we were disappointed to read that you told media outlets after the hearing that you “may have misspoken” during these two separate exchanges and still intend to eliminate the Senate-confirmed leadership of the Rural Development mission area in exchange for a staff level position in the Secretary’s office.

In describing the importance of creating the position of Undersecretary of Trade, you said “my opinion is that people do business with people and I wanted someone every day that woke up with that on their mind – where can I go to sell United States agricultural products around the world.”

We agree, but we also think it’s equally important to have an Undersecretary leading Rural Development who has that same kind of focus on creating jobs, helping small businesses succeed and ensuring better opportunities for hard working men and women from small towns and communities across rural America.

We appreciate and support your willingness and interest to be more involved in the Rural Development mission of the Department, but we remain concerned that the reorganization proposal submitted to Congress and the proposed 21% cut in the President’s skinny budget does not reflect the same vision and commitment you shared with us during the hearing.  That’s why we think it’s important to maintain the position of Undersecretary of Rural Development, the only part of the USDA focused on creating jobs and growing rural economies, and we ask you to reconsider this decision.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

Cheri Bustos

Member of Congress

 

Lisa Blunt Rochester

Member of Congress

 

Tim Walz

Member of Congress

 

Marcia L. Fudge

Member of Congress

 

James P. McGovern

Member of Congress

 

Michelle Lujan Grisham

Member of Congress

 

Ann McLane Kuster

Member of Congress

 

Rick Nolan

Member of Congress

 

Stacey E. Plaskett

Member of Congress

 

Alma S. Adams

Member of Congress

 

Dwight Evans

Member of Congress

 

Al Lawson, Jr.

Member of Congress

 

Jimmy Panetta

Member of Congress

 

Tom O’Halleran

Member of Congress

 

Darren Soto

Member of Congress

 

Dave Loebsack

Member of Congress

 

Kyrsten Sinema

Member of Congress

 

Julia Brownley

Member of Congress

 

Ron Kind

Member of Congress

 

Val Demings

Member of Congress

 

Jacky Rosen

Member of Congress

 

Raja Krishnamoorthi

Member of Congress

 

Josh Gottheimer

Member of Congress

 

Joe Courtney

Member of Congress

 

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