The House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee marked up a $144.9 billion fiscal year (FY) 2018 Ag Appropriations Bill last week that rejects the proposed elimination of many programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including most of the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program. The bill, which the Subcommittee advanced to the full Appropriations Committee by unanimous voice vote June 29, would restore funding for RCDG, a positive sign given the current budget climate.
The bill allocates $20 billion in discretionary funding—$876 million lower than the FY 2017 enacted level, but $4.64 billion above President Trump’s budget request. The RCDG Program is funded at $21 million for FY 2018, a $300,000 reduction from FY 2017, but far from Trump’s drastic call to completely eliminate Rural Business and Cooperative Service, the agency that administers the RCDG program.
“We are encouraged that the House bill continues to support the only federal program dedicated to advancing cooperative businesses,” said Judy Zeiwacz, President and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “NCBA CLUSA remains confident that lawmakers will ultimately recognize the value of cooperative development.”
According to grant recipients surveyed by the association CooperationWorks!, from 2008-2014, RCDG grants have developed more than 300 cooperative businesses and created or saved upwards of 4,000 cooperative jobs. The grants have also developed more than 350 non-cooperative small businesses and created or saved upwards of 6,000 non-cooperative jobs.
In her testimony for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Ziewacz called the program a “lifeline” for rural America and urged lawmakers to provide the necessary federal investment needed to “help create, sustain and inspire vibrant rural communities.”
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) told reporters after the voice vote last week that he is optimistic about getting approval from the full House Appropriations Committee after the July 4 recess. The bill would then be reconciled with a similar bill in the Senate, currently in hearings.