As the State Director of USDA Rural Development for the past eight years I had the privilege of leading the delivery of a variety of loan guarantees, loans, grants, and technical assistance services to rural and tribal Nevada. I loved this work and indicated to Senator Dean Heller my desire to be reappointed State Director, even if it meant joining the Trump administration.
Then President Trump submitted his first budget to Congress, zeroing out many of the essential programs of USDA Rural Development and other rural- and poverty-serving agencies. That day I withdrew my willingness to serve in Trump’s administration. We would not have clean water running efficiently in upgraded systems throughout our state, modernized small town hospitals, hundreds of jobs in businesses from Elko to TRIC to Pahrump, or significant improvements in rural broadband access without the work of USDA Rural Development and its mighty band of just 27 staff. A State Director has to be willing to stand with and for the President, and with President Trump, I cannot.
This budget attack has now been followed by a proposed demotion. Newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced a major restructuring of USDA that eliminates the position of the Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Rural Development. It places the Rural Development agencies as an afterthought within the Office of the Secretary, reporting to an assistant.
That may sound like inside-the-beltway nonsense, but it isn’t. During my time as Nevada’s State Director I twice had the opportunity to work in the Under Secretary’s office on special projects. You simply cannot effect change without an individual with the stature of an Under Secretary taking the work into the Sub-Cabinet and pushing it through.
Importantly, the Under Secretary is critical to the sound management of programs, the accountability of the agency to Congress and taxpayers, and the strength of the Rural Development voice within the Department and across the government. Rural Development since the inception of its agencies in the 1930s has built up a portfolio that would place it in the top 10 of banks in this country; it is expected that $38 billion will be invested this year alone. Appropriations of that size require Senate-confirmed accountability.
Donald Trump pledged to be a president for all Americans and rural America stepped up for him in droves. However, for rural America to survive and thrive it takes focused attention and resources. Instead, this administration has abolished the White House Rural Council and proposed eliminating rural housing, infrastructure, and business programs, as well as seeking to dismantle the greatest improvement in rural access to healthcare in modern times, the Affordable Care Act.
Do you think rural communities deserve affordable clean water and effective sewer systems? Do you think cutting edge technology companies like AquaMetals should come to our state? Do you think we should attract high end visits to the beauty of our mountains with venues like Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski and Lodge? Do you want rural Nevada and rural America to have a voice at the table? Then contact your member of the House of Representatives and Senators Heller and Cortez Mastos and ask them to reject the Trump budget and the reorganization of USDA.
Sarah Adler served as the Nevada State Director of USDA Rural Development from August of 2009 to January of 2017.