- Democratic Candidates turn their attention to rural America
- HUD and FHA expand popular commercial mortgage insurance product availability to all Opportunity Zones
- Congress moves to simplify guidelines for disaster relief grants.
- Economy shows continued growth, although warning signs are flashing
As more and more Democratic Candidates for President turn their policy-planning focus towards rural issues, it can be hard to tell their plans apart – or even remember who has taken a stand on what issue. The Daily Yonder has created a landing page which alleviates some of that confusion by keeping an updated list of all the candidates’ statements about, and plans for, rural America in one place. On the other side of the aisle, President Trump’s proposals and actions for rural America are housed in the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity which he created via Executive Order in 2017. The task force is a joint effort of twenty-two federal agencies, headed by Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture Sonny Purdue. The Task Force produced a report and identified five “Calls to Action” to improving the lives of Americans living in rural areas of the country.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced an expansion in its Section 220 program, administered by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). To stimulate multifamily developments around the country, the FHA will begin issuing more mortgage guarantees for mixed-use development properties. Where historically section 220 has provided affordable housing in downtown areas, the expansion of the program by HUD brings eligibility to all 8,764 Opportunity Zones, including those in Appalachia. HUD and FHA project that access to this mortgage guarantee program will boost mixed-used construction, and economic activity in low-income areas.
As the Department of Housing and Urban Development releases funds for disaster relief in a number of states, including West Virginia, Congress is moving to standardize and streamline rules for disaster relief grants. The department has issued more than 60 new grant guidelines in the last 15 years, which has created an ad hoc system that has been a source of confusion for grantees and led to inconsistent and unfair outcomes. The “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019” would create a permanent office within HUD to administer funds for disaster preparation and recovery; establish a reserve fund for immediate post-disaster costs (allowing HUD to respond before Congress passes a specific relief bill); earmark more funds for disaster mitigation; and require that 70% of grant funds benefit low- and moderate-income families. Increased efficiency and consistency in grantmaking will help applicants with limited capacity compete for grants, ensuring communities across Appalachia can recover and rebuild in the wake of disasters. Supporters hope that the increased efficiency will also contribute to faster turnaround times from disaster-to-recovery; the usual long timelines having been a consistent issue.
Although the economy continues to steadily create jobs, adding 164,000 last month, overall economic growth has slowed over the past quarter. Wage growth also remains low and the labor market participation rate remains below the historical trend, hinting that we have yet to fully recover from the last recession and reach full employment. The Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates for the first time in over a decade in an attempt to further stimulate the economy. Given that the recovery is just beginning to benefit regions and communities that are often left behind by economic growth, Fahe advocates for federal investment in these communities to both sustain the recovery and broaden its benefits. Regions like Appalachia deserve to feel the recovery before the next crisis. As you have conversations with policy-makers, being armed with historic trend data such as this, as well as your own knowledge of past recoveries, will allow you to speak as an expert on how our region fits into the larger national narrative.