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Sen. Joni Ernst Delivers Opening Remarks at Senate Ag Subcommittee Hearing on USDA Rural Development Programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, today delivered the following opening remarks at the hearing on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rural development programs and their economic impact across America.

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Senator Ernst’s Opening Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:

Good morning. Thank you, Ranking Member Heitkamp for being here today. We do expect that we’ll have other members of the subcommittee coming in and out this morning as well, so I apologize for that. But, I call this hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy to order.

I feel fortunate to be chairing this committee, considering my upbringing in rural America, and the critical role that Iowa plays in producing energy for the nation. Today, over half of Iowa’s 3 million residents live in rural communities. Each year I do a tour to our state’s 99 counties, and 75 of those counties have a population 25,000 or less.

As I committed to do when I came to the Senate last year, I really do want to focus on the things that make sense, while working to streamline or even eliminate federal programs that foster bad behavior by both the government and people.

I believe it is imperative that we focus on the causes of rural poverty and work to provide opportunities for folks to overcome obstacles that have created many of the problems we see throughout rural America. Lack of jobs and poor rural housing are just two examples I hear about while traveling throughout Iowa.

Since the early 1900s, the federal government has administered various programs aiding communities in rural America. Today, the major agency tasked with carrying out the bulk of these programs is USDA’s Office of Rural Development.

Created under the 1990 Farm Bill, the Office of Rural Development Administration’s main function is administering grants, loans and loan guarantees to support a number of services in rural communities; including the construction and maintenance of electric and telecommunications infrastructure, rural business development and retention, water and waste water treatment facilities, and rural housing.

In continuing with my commitment to bring effective oversight of programs within the federal government, and as we begin preliminary discussions about the next Farm Bill, it is imperative we look at programs under my subcommittee’s jurisdiction to ensure that Congress is being an effective steward of the taxpayer’s money and that USDA is implementing programs as we intended.

In Iowa, production agriculture takes the center stage as our state’s fertile soil and ideal growing conditions have allowed us to lead the country in production of pork, corn and soybeans. In addition to that, Iowa is proud to lead the nation in ethanol and biodiesel production.

Many of the energy programs administered by USDA’s Rural Development help support Iowa’s biofuels industry, employing over 45,000 Iowans and nationwide contributing over $52 billion to annual GDP.

Ms. Undersecretary, I look forward to hearing your testimony today and asking you some questions in regards to the state of USDA Rural Development. But before we hear from you, I want to turn things over to Ranking Member Heitkamp for any opening remarks.