U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who met with members of the Mississippi Rural Water Association today, said rural development and conservation provisions enacted with the new farm bill are intended to help rural communities meet growing demands for water and wastewater services, while reducing the amount of time it takes for eligible entities to gain access to important programs.
Cochran, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said the Agricultural Act of 2014 specifically addresses the ongoing need for water and wastewater improvements in rural states. Among other things, the law reauthorizes U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rural water, wastewater facilities and waste disposal grant and loan programs, and provides $150 million in mandatory funds to help reduce a lengthy backlog of pending applications.
“Water and wastewater infrastructure is critical to promoting public health and economic growth. Rural communities frequently find that the repairs or upgrades needed to meet strict government standards are often unaffordable,” Cochran said. “The rural development provisions in the farm bill acknowledge this problem and offer tools to help overcome these challenges.”
In addition to making loan and grant funding available, the 2014 farm bill gives the Agriculture Secretary authority to utilize loan guarantees or direct loans for rural water and waste disposal infrastructure projects based on the material impact on rate payers. Use of private or cooperative lenders is encouraged to finance projects.
The rural water and wastewater circuit rider program is continued, and the law authorizes a set percentage of funding for technical assistance programs to assist rural organizations in developing and operating systems more efficiently. The grassroots source water protection program, which assists communities in developing locally-driven plans to protect the ground and surface waters on which they rely, is extended with an additional $5.0 million in mandatory funds provided to address pending applications.
The new law also requires the USDA to develop a simplified application process for USDA agricultural and rural development lending programs.
“I am hopeful that utility providers in rural Mississippi, where there is a great need, will be able to use the farm bill to provide better water and wastewater services to those they serve,” said Cochran, who was among the principal negotiators on the final farm bill that recognizes an extensive backlog of pending applications for rural water and wastewater projects throughout the country.