The House Committee on Appropriations marked up its FY14 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies spending bill on June 13 with little focus on Rural Housing Service (RHS) programs.
The Committee bill would fund the Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance program at $1.012 billion, a 21% increase over the FY13 funding level post rescissions and sequestration. The President’s FY14 budget request included $1.015 billion for the Section 521 program. The Committee bill would cut other rural housing programs below the FY13 funding levels.
Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) said that the bill would encourage development of rural areas and support local and rural housing markets. Chair Rogers acknowledged that the bill “makes some serious cuts,” saying that “lower priority programs… have been trimmed” to allow the Committee to fund “priority programs.”
Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) opposed the bill with “deep regret,” saying that this is the “first bill that the Committee has considered with an unnecessarily low allocation but will not be the last.” Referring to the Committee’s decision to manage the low FY14 funding level set by the House budget resolution by providing substantial subcommittee allocations to defense bills but underfunding the remaining subcommittee bills, Ms. Lowey said, “The [Committee has] given to the first three bills and taken away from the other nine.” In response to the Chair’s statement, she said, “we have a difference between what is lower priority and what is not.”
Representative Sam Farr (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee expressed disappointment in the bill because he said that compared to the President’s budget request, “almost every one of their numbers has been cut.”
A single rural housing amendment was offered and agreed to by the Committee. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) offered an amendment to allow the 2000 Census definition of rural communities to remain in place for purposes of determining RHS funding eligibility for one year. Based on the 2010 Census, many communities formerly considered rural would no longer be so categorized due to population growth between 2000 and 2010. Mr. Fortenberry said that his amendment would allow 900 communities to continue to be eligible for USDA housing, “until we have time to enact a more stable, long term solution.” Congress included a one year extension of the definition in the FY13 Agriculture appropriations bill. The Committee approved the amendment unanimously.
Mr. Fortenberry introduced legislation in February, H.R. 858, the Rural Housing Preservation Act, that would allow data from the 1990, 2000, or 2010 Census surveys to be used to determine eligibility rather than the 2010 Census only. The bill has bipartisan support and 59 co-sponsors.
The Committee approved the FY14 Agriculture bill by a voice vote.