Rural impact of stimulus package | TSLN.com

Rural impact of stimulus package

Steve Miller

The new federal stimulus package contains nearly $7 billion for U.S. Department of Agriculture efforts nationally, but how much of that money will come to South Dakota is yet to be determined.

Little of the money will go directly to farmers and ranchers.

According to figures provided by the offices of Sen. John Thune, R-SD, and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-SD, the package contains:

– $200 million for USDA buildings and facilities. Of that, $24 million would go for construction, repair and improvement of USDA buildings. The remainder, $176 million, would go for work on deferred maintenance on agricultural research facilities.

– $50 million for computer technology for the Farm Service Agency (the figure was cut from $245 million). The computer upgrades are considered important because the current computer software in county and state Farm Service Agency offices may not be up to handling the processing of disaster programs and the Average Crop Revenue (ACRE) programs, according to a Thune spokesman. Thune backed an unsuccessful effort to include the computer upgrade money in the 2007 farm bill.

– $340 million for Natural Resources Conservation Service, construction of watershed/flood prevention and rehabilitation. Of that, $290 million would go for watershed and flood prevention operations, including $145 million for purchasing and restoring floodplain easements. Watershed rehabilitation programs of high-hazard structures such as dams would get $50 million.

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The Farm Service Agency’s South Dakota headquarters in Huron had not received word about how much money will get funneled to the state, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

An NRCS official also said it is unclear whether the state will get money for watershed and flood prevention work. Mike Kuck, assistant state conservationist for programs with NRCS in Huron, said the state doesn’t have any high-hazard dams. Kuck said there is one current project for flood control, on the Whetstone River in northeast South Dakota.

“That program hasn’t been funded for the last couple of years in the national budget, so that project has been kind of on the shelf, waiting for funding,” Kuck said.

How the money will be divided among the states is still a question mark, according to Betsy Hart, a spokeswoman for Herseth Sandlin. “We’re doing what we can to learn about the bill,” Hart said Wednesday.

It will be up to the discretion of USDA how much of the money goes to individual states, according to Brendon Plack, Thune’s legislative assistant for agriculture. It is possible that some states could get very little of the stimulus money, he said.

Plack also said Thune and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, had pushed an amendment to the stimulus package to increase funding for energy programs under USDA, but the amendment failed.

Even though little of the money will go directly to farmers and ranchers, the increased aid for food stamps and other nutrition programs should help rural America by creating demand for ag products, according to the National Farmers Union.

NFU President Tom Buis, in a news release, said the package expands nutrition assistance programs, provides money for more broadband infrastructure and encourages more development of renewable fuels.

Other provisions of the stimulus package that will affect rural areas, according to Thune’s office, include:

– $1 billion for direct loans for rural housing and $10.5 billion for unsubsidized guaranteed housing loans.

– $200 million for modifying rural housing loans.

– $130 million for rural community facilities programs.

– $150 million for loans and grants for rural businesses.

– $1.38 billion for loans and grants for rural water, waste water and waste disposal programs.

– $2.5 billion for loans and grants for distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband programs.

– $200 million for the national school lunch program.

– $500 million for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

– $150 million for emergency food assistance.