Revitalizing Rural America

The Federal Budget

Having emerged from the worst recession in generations, the President has put forward a plan to rebuild our economy and win the future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our global competitors and creating the jobs and industries of tomorrow. But we cannot rebuild our economy and win the future if we pass on a mountain of debt to our children and grandchildren. We must restore fiscal responsibility, and reform our government to make it more effective, efficient, and open to the American people. The President’s 2012 Budget is a responsible approach that puts the nation on a path to live within our means so we can invest in our future – by cutting wasteful spending and making tough choices on some things we cannot afford, while keeping the investments we need to grow the economy and create jobs. It targets scarce federal resources to the areas critical to winning the future: education, innovation, clean energy, and infrastructure. And it proposes to reform how Washington does business, putting more federal funding up for competition, cutting waste, and reorganizing government so that it better serves the American people.

To support vibrant rural communities, the Budget will:

Extend Broadband and Wireless Access. The Budget invests $5 billion in the National Wireless Initiative to increase the availability of 4G wireless networks to at least 98 percent of the country, many of whom live in rural areas. This initiative will also help support the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to reform its Universal Service Fund by transitioning its historic support for voice communications to new, more efficient broadband technologies, which will help rural telephone companies provide better service to their customers.     

Expand Transportation Options in Rural Communities. As part of the President’s six-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal, the Budget increases support for transportation in rural communities in several ways.  Under its Highway Safety Improvement Program, the Federal Highway Administration is proposing a minimum 10 percent set-aside (approximately $250 million) for Rural Road Safety.  In addition, the Flexible Investment Program of the National Highway Program ($15.6 billion) is eligible for improvements that offer enhanced transportation access in rural areas.  Under the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), rural communities would receive almost $766 million, a 43 percent increase over FY 2010 to support important public transportation services.  FTA is preserving its foundational support for rural transit service in its reauthorization proposal continuing a long-standing commitment, dating back several authorizations, to communities with less than 50,000 in population.  This includes continued support for critical intercity bus services.

Promote Agricultural Exports. The Budget provides $20 million for the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to enhance USDA’s efforts to promote the export of U.S. agricultural products.  FAS supports the National Export Initiative which has the primary goals of spurring economic growth and employment opportunities. In concert with the interagency Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, FAS will work with and through U.S. farm groups, State departments of agriculture and State regional trade groups, agricultural and industry organizations, and other USDA agencies to draw on all available expertise to maximize the positive impacts of this initiative.

Increase the Number of Primary Health Care Providers in Rural America. The Budget invests $418 million in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) to place providers in rural regions and other medically underserved areas to improve access to needed health care services. Under the NHSC, primary health professionals such as physicians, nurse practitioners, and dentists agree to serve in a medically underserved community in exchange to receiving a portion of their student loans paid off. In 2012, 10,683 clinicians will be providing essential primary and preventative care services in health care facilities across the country.

Continue Critical Funding for Health Centers. Health centers are a key component of the nation’s health care safety net.  These sites offer comprehensive, high quality, primary and preventative health care services to all Americans regardless of ability to pay.  Health centers will continue to be a critical element of the health system as the Nation expands insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In 2009, the Recovery Act provided $500 million to expand health center services to an additional 2 million patients.  The ACA continues this progress by investing a total of $2.2 billion in new resources for health center services in 2011 and 2012.  The Budget builds on this investment by providing an additional $2.1 billion.  In 2012, health centers are estimated to serve 24 million patients.

Support Business Growth and Lending in Low-Income and Minority Communities. Even in the more constrained budget environment, the Administration continues to support robust funding of programs that improve the availability of credit in underserved and lower-income communities, and includes initiatives targeted to improving financial literacy and increasing the availability of healthy foods in areas now lacking them. For example, the Budget provides $227 million for the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which provides capital to low-income communities across the Nation and is targeting a portion of its funds to help bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities.  To assist entrepreneurs to start businesses and create jobs in inner cities, the Budget also includes $3 million to continue the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Emerging Leaders (formerly Emerging 200) initiative. The Budget also funds several initiatives designed to promote entrepreneurship in underserved areas including the Small Loan Advantage and Community Advantage programs and the Small Business Investment Company Impact Fund debenture program, which will support impact investments that target residents of economically distressed regions or owned by a socially or economically disadvantaged group.

Conserve Landscapes and Ecosystems.  The Administration maintains support for land management operations, and fully funds at $900 million the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) programs in the Departments of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture. The 2012 Budget leverages and integrates efforts of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service, along with States, Tribes and others, to conserve the most critical landscapes.  This includes $200 million for State LWCF grants, some of which will be competitively awarded to address priorities and leverage resources for urban parks and public-private conservation projects. The Administration also proposes funding for key grant and partnership programs, such as the Challenge Cost Share and historic preservation programs, and reauthorizes DOI’s authority under the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act to use proceeds from the sale of low-conservation value lands to acquire additional high-priority conservation lands.

Maximize the Impact of Forest Restoration Resources by Consolidating Programs. To maximize the Forest Service’s ability to address changing needs and manage diverse forest landscapes, the Administration supports a holistic approach to restoration and maintenance of sustainable landscapes.  By merging multiple programs, the Forest Service can increase its ability to restore forest resiliency and health while supporting sustainable economic development. This streamlined approach will also improve forest management efficiency.

Redirect Aid to Needy Rural Americans. The economic situation in some non-farm rural communities remains tough.  Over a third of non-metropolitan counties lost at least 10 percent of their population from 1988 to 2008.  Population loss tends to reduce property values, increase tax burdens, reduce the supply and demand for local goods and services, and result in the loss of young, highly-skilled workers. Given the unique needs of rural farm and non-farm communities, the President’s Budget proposes to refocus and reprioritize assistance to rural America to more appropriately address these needs.

Promote Renewable Energy Development. To enhance energy security, create green jobs in new industries, and mitigate the effects of climate change, the Administration proposes key funding increases for renewable energy development and Federal natural resource stewardship. The Budget includes $73 million to maintain capacity to review and permit new renewable energy projects on Federal lands, with the goal of permitting at least 9,000 megawatts of new solar, wind, and geothermal electricity generation capacity on DOI-managed lands by the end of 2011. The Administration proposes funding for a framework of climate science centers and landscape conservation cooperatives that will assist Federal land managers and other affected land, water and wildlife professionals to respond to changes in water resources and habitat due to climate change.

Expand Access to Healthy Foods. The 2012 Budget provides funding for the multi-year Healthy Food Financing Initiative that will increase the availability of affordable, healthy foods in underserved urban and rural communities by bringing grocery stores and other fresh food retailers to “food desert” communities, which are neighborhoods that do not provide residents access to affordable and healthy food options. To support this initiative, the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Treasury have partnered to make available over $400 million in financing to community development financial institutions, other nonprofits, public agencies, and businesses with sound strategies for addressing the healthy food needs of communities. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities are typically served by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little if any fresh produce. This lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Most often, these communities are economically distressed and less attractive, under conventional financing, to retailers of healthy food. But effective local programs have shown that well-targeted financing and technical assistance can create viable business outcomes and access to healthier food options. Targeting federal financial assistance to these areas will not only increase the supply of healthy foods and create new markets for farmers, but also create jobs and support broader development efforts to revitalize distressed communities.