Rural Ohio being forgotten?

By Frank Lewis - [email protected]

The poverty level in Scioto County is 23.3 percent or 17,531 people. In January 2016 a new federal anti-poverty initiative expanded to 11 counties in Ohio, including Scioto County. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown told the Daily Times that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative identified local and regional challenges to solve them by connecting local partners with federal resources to combat chronic poverty.

Brown said on Thursday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was at an event in Cincinnati and announced that USDA is eliminating the Undersecretary for Rural Development – a program that has brought $6 billion to Ohio since 2009. In 2016 alone, 5,732 awards were issued totaling $795,667,203. StrikeForce is a rural anti-poverty initiative created at the Ag Department to aggregate all the department’s efforts to aid rural communities. Rural Development is a major component of StrikeForce.

According to law, an agency is limited to no more than seven undersecretaries, so to concentrate more on trade, Perdue is seeking to eliminate it’s undersecretary for rural development, a position Brown says is dedicated to coordinating billions in loan and grant programs supporting rural housing, health care and water issues, among other things. According to the Department of Agriculture, the reorganization places agencies in a more logical order, aligning services in a way that makes more sense for the farmers and ranchers who depend on them.

“I welcome the extra emphasis on trade and look forward to working with USDA to sell Ohio ag products around the world,” Brown told the Daily Times. “But I do not support eliminating the Undersecretary for rural development. Ohio counts on USDA Rural Development for support for everything from combating opioids, to building hospitals, to securing loans for local businesses to grow and create jobs. Ohio’s rural communities are too often overlooked by Washington as it is, and downgrading USDA Rural Development sends a message that rural Ohio is not a priority for this Administration. No matter what, I will keep fighting to make sure Ohio communities get the support they need.”

Additionally, Brown said, the Undersecretary is a Senate-confirmed position. By eliminating that position, USDA’s rural development program will be less accountable to Congress and make it harder for him to fight for Ohio projects through his position on the Ag Committee. Brown fought to get the strong rural development title in the 2014 Farm Bill.

By Frank Lewis

[email protected]

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewisPDT.

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewisPDT.