Small towns in the United States run on CDBG and USDA Rural Development funds and they are about to be drastically cut according to news reports both national and local.
Attend any rural community meeting discussing how to build a new, community center, or upgrade a small town water system, and the first solution you’ll hear is, “Get a grant to pay for that.”
Reading the latest news, I have a huge concern: These rural development and CDBG grants are the life’s blood for struggling rural communities. And our biggest competitors for this money are urban areas.
Who has the most leverage when it comes to getting a slice of the new, much smaller pie? A major metropolitan area with a ton of voters, or a small town of 3000 in a rural county with a total voting block of less than 50,000? … need I say more?
Our major voices in this huge debate are the regional rural economic development organizations and RC&D’s that have our best interests at heart and their own survival at stake.
They use this money to keep their doors open so they can help rural business owners and small towns. They pass it through to us in the form of microloans, business development services and community development projects. And they need our help.
What is RURAL?
The first big debate which is being considered right now is about clarifying what is “rural.” It seems obvious right? You know it when you see it, right? Not so.
How about this. According to this post in the Daily Yonder, “Define Rural before You Budget for It,” you’re looking at a picture of an urban center. Yup, the Grand Canyon is “metro” according to federal use of county demographics. Part of it is in populous Coconino County!
With battles ahead for the bits of federal assistance that is allowing many rural communities to continue to exist, we need to do two things immediately:
1. Become aware of all the local and regional rural economic development organizations that serve your rural area, find out what they do and contact your congressmen and legislators to express your support of their efforts.
2. Get involved with new efforts to clarify a definition of rural. Read the article in the Daily Yonder to more fully understand the complexity of what would seem to be a simple thing.
Why is this so important? A new Farm Bill will be debated soon in Congress, with the existing Farm Bill due to expire in 2012. Having a clearer, non-agricultural definition of rural will mean that your small town won’t be need to compete with big agribusinesses like Archers Daniels Midland (ADM) for grants and subsidies in that gigantic bill.
Remember the next time you hear someone in your small town say “We can get a grant for that” exactly where that grant money comes from, and how easily it could become a thing of the past.
Chopping block photo on Flickr by randwill
Grand Canyon photo on Flickr by John Loo