Part 1: The Battle for Rural Votes. President Trump’s Budget Falls Short for Small Town America

President Trump’s budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year doesn’t have small town North Dakota in mind. Drastic reductions to the USDA and farm-related policies, rural business development, education, transportation, and Medicaid shows the priorities of the White House. Are these the priorities of rural Americans and North Dakotans?

Let’s start with farm-related budget reductions. It is no secret the farm economy has witnessed a difficult few years. Low commodity prices. Prolonged trade wars that impacted the markets that farmers themselves created. Weather that has made field work next to impossible at times. EPA waivers to big oil for biofuels. And now, budget reductions to programs designed to partner with farmers to alleviate some of the emotional and financial burdens brought on by all of the above.

Here are some of the key reductions in spending as outlined by Daily Yonder:

  • Economic Research Service—cut from $84 million this year to $62 million in 2021, a 35% decrease.
  • Rural Business and Cooperative Programs—cut from $94 million this year to $3 million in 2021, a 97% decrease. Key programs in this unit include the Value-Added Producer Grant program, Rural Energy for America Program and numerous programs that support farmer and rancher cooperatives.
  • USDA Single Family Housing Direct Loans—eliminates the program, funded at $90 million this year.
  • Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network—the budget provides $2 million for local farm financial stress counseling, $8 million less than is allowed by the 2018 Farm Bill.

The budget also proposes $240 billion in net mandatory savings over 10 years from USDA programs. How would they accomplish this? “Lowering crop insurance subsidies, tightening eligibility for farm payments and gashing conservation programs.” Sure, the band-aid MFP helped in the short term but this budget housing long term impacts.

The reductions to USDA equal about 8% of the current funding levels. The Education Department and Energy Department also receive an 8 percent reduction. The Small Business Administration received an 11 percent reduction, and the Department of Transportation received a thirteen percent reduction. Couple these reductions with the changes to Medicaid Expansion and the impact that will have on rural hospitals and small-town America doesn’t appear to be a priority in this budget. Don’t believe me? Find Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer’s comments – yes, that Kevin Cramer – on the President’s budget.

The administration claims these cuts must be made to “reduce long-term deficits.” The rising deficit is a legitimate concern especially given the debt has skyrocketed over recent years. We should look at what policies are driving the debt and deficit upwards. Why must farmers and rural America already struggling bear the burden?

Like previous budgets, this one will likely be thrown in the shredder of Congress. Yet, budgets show priorities. I wonder if these are the priorities of rural America? If not, will there be any repercussions in the 2020 election?

Here is the deal. It is easy to point out the flaws in President Trump’s budget wishes. This budget mirrors his previous proposals over the years. Still, the approval rating for Trump in rural America is sky-high. Where are the alternative proposals from Democrats? Have they moved on from rural America in yet another election? What is their solution for workers who have felt “forgotten” over the years? How do they prove that their party has positions that support rural economic development? Demonstrate to farmers they won’t push erroneous rules that create barriers to their operations, but instead, partner with them. They need something to try and regain rural America’s trust because President Trump’s budget priorities are bad for rural America and small town North Dakota.

This is part one of a two-part series. Check back for Part 2: Have Democrats already Lost Rural Voters in 2020?

Tyler Axness
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