Today, Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-23) urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure continued eligibility for its critical Rural Development program funding for over 900 rural communities nationwide, including Atascadero, Paso Robles, Morro Bay, Nipomo, and Carpinteria on the Central Coast.
Earlier this month, Capps and a bipartisan group of over 100 lawmakers urged House leadership to include language to protect eligibility for Rural Development funding in the Continuing Resolution appropriations bill passed by Congress before it adjourned on September 21st. However, that language was not included in the legislation. The USDA Rural Development program supports a wide range of affordable housing, economic development, and critical infrastructure projects in rural areas through grants, loans, and technical assistance. Click here to read about an example of the projects supported by USDA Rural Development.
It's disappointing that House leadership did not take action to protect eligibility for USDA Rural Development funding before adjourning last Friday. There is widespread, bipartisan support for ensuring rural communities across the country retain eligibility for these critical funds. USDA Rural Development funding provides important resources to communities on the Central Coast to support a wide range of economic development and affordable housing projects. For example, People's Self Help Housing depends on USDA financing to build many of its affordable housing units throughout the Tri-Counties, including 23 currently under construction in Atascadero and 34 in Nipomo. I am urging the USDA to protect these communities," said Capps.
Eligibility for funding through the USDA Rural Development programs is determined by, among other factors, a city's population size as established by the decennial census. In 2000, Congress enacted a grandfather clause that allowed any community that was deemed rural in 1990 to continue to be eligible for USDA Rural Development funding until the 2010 Census, as long as it had a population below 25,000. The grandfather clause will expire on October 1, 2012. If the grandfather clause is not extended, Atascadero, Paso Robles, Morro Bay, Nipomo, and Carpinteria will no longer be eligible for USDA Rural Development program funding, despite their distinctive rural attributes and low populations that garnered the designation in the first place.
Text of the letter is included below.
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
As you know, hundreds of communities across the nation, including several in and around my Congressional District, will no longer be eligible for funding under U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development programs unless action is taken by September 30, 2012 due to a pending change in USDA's definition of "rural." I urge you to take any and all appropriate action to address this urgent issue.
In 2000, Congress enacted a grandfather clause that allowed any community that was "rural" in 1990 to continue to be eligible for USDA Rural Development funding until the 2010 Census, as long as it had a population below 25,000. This grandfather clause will expire on October 1, 2012. Under the new definition, 923 communities across the country currently eligible for USDA Rural Development programs, including the Central Coast communities of Morro Bay, Los Osos, Atascadero, Paso Robles and Carpinteria, will be cut off from what is often their only source of federal housing funds.
There is significant bipartisan support in both the House and Senate for extending the grandfather clause. During its consideration of the Farm Bill, the Senate passed by voice vote an amendment to continue the grandfather clause for ten years for those communities eligible for USDA rural housing programs. The provision also increased the population cap on communities previously eligible to 35,000.
In the House, more than 100 of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, and I sent a letter to Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi urging them to include a provision in the continuing resolution addressing this problem. I have also joined 15 of my colleagues in cosponsoring and promoting H.R. 273, the Rural Housing Preservation Act, which would preserve the definition of "rural" under current law until 2020 Census data is available.
These communities on the Central Coast of California -- and the hundreds more nationwide -- depend on USDA Rural Development programs to help improve quality of life and economic opportunity for their most vulnerable residents. Being cut off from this funding when our economic and housing recovery remains so fragile would be devastating. I urge you to take any and all appropriate action to ensure that these communities are not cut off from this critical funding, pursuant to all relevant rules and regulations. Thank you for your consideration.
Member of Congress