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Funding for small businesses, conservation program valuable to rural communities


A new farm bill is top of mind for many farmers, ranchers, and rural community members. However, amidst the ongoing discussions and negotiations, another important conversation is beginning to unfold. In the weeks ahead, members of Congress will outline federal spending levels for 2025, including funding for programs that impact agriculture and small businesses.
After much delay, Congress passed its 2024 budget earlier this month to fund the federal government through Sept. 30. The bill came after a series of continuing resolutions to keep the government afloat to allow for negotiations to continue. In addition to tensions across party lines, Congress was working under spending caps established by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023.
The bill, which resulted in roughly $26 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration, includes funding for several small but mighty programs with outsized benefits for rural communities.
For example, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program distributes funding to intermediary lenders, such as the Center for Rural Affairs, who use the money to provide loans and technical assistance to small businesses in rural communities. In turn, these small businesses boost local economies and provide job opportunities on rural main streets across the country. The program received $5 million to continue this work in 2024, down from $6 million in 2023 and $6.5 million in 2022, but still a substantial amount.

Another program supported by annual appropriations is Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). The funding allows USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service staff to work directly with farmers and ranchers implementing practices that improve soil health and water quality. CTA received roughly $773.5 million for 2024, a slight decrease from $800.9 million in 2023.
As planning for the 2025 budget begins this spring, Congress must be reminded of the return on investment that programs such as RMAP and CTA offer to rural communities and be encouraged to fund these programs in a more timely manner.