USDA’s Rural Development undersecretary faced numerous complaints from rural U.S. Senators about complicated grant applications, office staffing, and broadband grant duplication at a recent Farm Bill hearing.  Xochitl Torres Small defended her agency’s handling of its many functions, calling most criticisms the result of having to balance costs and fairness.  But she did agree to work with senators to make rural development grant applications simpler, while not favoring towns that can afford grant writers.


“The next thing we need to do, and I think the farm bill’s a great opportunity to do that, is to go through what are the statutory requirements that actually make an application harder. In doing that, we might also identify, sometimes it’s our fault, it’s regulations that are making it harder, and maybe looking at thresholds if it’s under a certain amount, recognizing that we have to balance risks as a lender. Maybe if it’s under a certain cost, we can make certain applications easier.”


As for broadband grant duplication.


“Coordination is crucial to identify the timing of applications, to figure out where overlap may be appropriate to fund two very different projects, or where we need to make strong decisions to keep that from happening.”


Another concern is rural hospitals closing.  Torres Small said community facility grants depend on Congress’ definition of rural, based on population limits, with exceptions if an area is “rural in character.”


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