When the House Agriculture Commodities, Trade and Credit Subcommittee held a hearing on rural development today, members primarily questioned the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Development rural, Xochitl Torres Small, on broadband issues.
In his opening statement, Torres Small said rural development programs — including delivering high-speed Internet service to rural America — are essential to enabling rural Americans to continue to to live. Echoing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Torres Small said: “Often rural assets – from food to energy to natural resources – are removed from their original location and moved elsewhere to create jobs or opportunities away from the communities where they were originally produced. … Despite the challenges, the solutions are there in the experiences, stories, ideas and dreams of rural people if you listen carefully.
Rep. Antonio Delgado, DN.Y., is chair of the subcommittee and presided over most of the hearing, but Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., made the opening statement.
“Americans should be able to choose where they want to live without having to compromise on access to fast, reliable high-speed internet, clean water and affordable health care,” Craig said. “Furthermore, we need to ensure these diverse communities have the tools they need to thrive in a 21st century economy. Part of achieving this goal is to build the resilience of local supply chains so they can better support the distribution of basic commodities and a diverse economy where residents have access to tools that will support their learning and development. success.
Several members inquired about the ReConnect Loans and Grants Program, which provides loans and grants to finance the costs of constructing, improving or acquiring facilities and equipment needed to provide service to broadband in eligible rural areas.
Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., a ranking member of the Committee of the Whole, and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., both questioned the Biden administration’s decision to give preference to organizations nonprofit to qualify for the program. Torres Small said the decision was made to ensure a wide range of applicants could qualify, particularly in hard-to-serve areas.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, also said the application process for ReConnect is difficult for small grants.
Thompson also told Torres Small that he was upset that the USDA did not consult with House Republicans before making “major policy changes until the very last moment.”
He also urged Torres Small to encourage House Democratic leaders to pass a broadband bill that passed the committee by a large bipartisan majority.