Thursday, October 4, 2012

USDA: 'We're Still Issuing Farm Bill Broadband Loans' 10/04/2012 San Francisco -  The Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (RUS) is still accepting and issuing Farm Bill Broadband Loan Program loans under legal authority extended by the recently passed congressional continuing resolution (CR).

“We are operating under a continuing resolution, so the program will continue to make loans,” stated Mr. Jay Fletcher, USDA Rural Development spokesperson, in emailed answers to questions of this publication.

We estimate that a minimum of some $300 million - $400 million remains in "program level" loan capacity for carry over into the new federal fiscal year 2013, based on previous appropriations and authorized loan leverage rates.

Broadband service providers, including telecommunications wireline carriers, wireless providers, cable television operators, rural electric cooperatives, and municipal power departments serving rural areas are all eligible for Broadband Loan funding. Loans are extended at federally subsidized low rates of interest.

Questions about the Broadband Loan Program had been raised given the lapse of legal authority of the 2008 Farm Bill at midnight, Sunday, September 30th. The expiration of congressional authorization under the legislation resulted in the suspension of a number of high profile programs that support American agriculture. All of the Farm Bill programs, from crop subsidies to rural infrastructure support programs, are managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Spokesperson Fletcher explained that the Rural Utilities Service of USDA (RUS) will continue to both accept for review new Broadband Loan Program applications, and to process applications submitted prior to the Sunday's Farm Bill cut off date.   

The Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives and the Democratic U.S. Senate have not reached a legislative compromise allowing the new 2012 Farm Bill to be voted into law. At the start of the new federal fiscal year on October 1, the scores of provisions and programs in the 2008 Farm Bill expired unless parts of the CR authorized them to continue on a temporary basis.

The CR was passed by vote of the Senate, concurring in previous House action, on September 26 and quickly signed by President Obama.

Vilsack Statement
Questions from the rural telecom industry emerged on Monday of this week as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement to the press which outlined a slew of signature USDA programs that had to be suspended at midnight.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
"Many programs and policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were authorized under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 ("2008 Farm Bill") through September 30, 2012,” said Vilsack in the release issued by his media staff.

“These include a great number of critical programs impacting millions of Americans, including programs for farm commodity and price support, conservation, research, nutrition, food safety, and agricultural trade.”

“As of today, USDA's authority or funding to deliver many of these programs has expired, leaving USDA with far fewer tools to help strengthen American agriculture and grow a rural economy that supports 1 in 12 American jobs. Authority and funding for additional programs is set to expire in the coming months. Without action by the House of Representatives on a multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs bill, rural communities are today being asked to shoulder additional burdens and additional uncertainty in a tough time."

"As we continue to urge Congress to give USDA more tools to grow the rural economy, USDA will work hard to keep producers and farm families informed regarding those programs which are no longer available to them." 
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