As the worst drought in U.S. history continues to impact agriculture and businesses in rural communities, various federal agencies are offering additional aid to affected Americans. With more than 1,800 counties designated as disaster areas, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Commerce, Interior and Transportation have worked to lessen hardships by providing emergency loan funds to farmers, ranchers and producers, increasing lending to small businesses and waiving certain requirements on commercial trucks. In addition, the Small Business Administration, USDA and Economic Development Administration are hosting forums in designated communities and through state and county fairs to provide information about other federal resources available. For the most up-to-date information, visit www.usda.gov/drought.
Last month, USDA released Federal Resources for Sustainable Rural Communities, a guide outlining federal programs available to rural communities for promoting economic development and improving their residents’ quality of life. The guide includes information about grants, loans and technical assistance focused on transportation, housing, and environment and natural resources. By accessing resources from not only USDA, but also the U.S. Department of Housing, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, rural communities can leverage local assets to increase economic competitiveness, preserve natural resources and create jobs for rural Americans.
In another sign of the legislative dysfunction plaguing this Congress, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives were unable to agree on a way to extend valuable economic development resources for rural communities or provide relief for the farmers affected by the drought before going home for the month of August. When they return, members of Congress will resume debating whether to pass legislation targeting aid to areas hurting from drought and natural disaster or reestablishing federal policies about rural development, nutrition, conservation and farming in a broader multi-year farm bill, the current version of which is set to expire on September 30. This legislation concerns Americans not only in rural communities but across the country, who deserve both certainty and support that a comprehensive farm bill with policy improvements and continued investments can provide. Only then can our rural areas recover from these historic natural disasters and focus on prospering again.