The nation’s cooperative businesses are poised to be an integral part of achieving a 10-year infrastructure plan released by the White House yesterday, but a concurrent proposal to gut the only federal program dedicated to advancing the impact of cooperative businesses nationwide jeopardizes that potential.
Part of the $4.4 trillion budget proposal President Trump sent to Congress, the infrastructure plan calls for $200 billion over the next decade to improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure. One quarter of that money would go to rural and small-town America to fund bridges, roads, airports and broadband deployment.
“Co-ops have answered the call in the past to ensure that people have access to critical infrastructure,” said Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “Whether ensuring people have access to electricity, agricultural markets and, more recently, high-speed broadband, the cooperative business model has shown time and again that these people-centered businesses are the way to deliver meaningful results.”
Still, the budget proposal released Monday also dissolves Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which creates rural economic opportunity, spurs growth and administers the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program—a call consistent with the Administration’s previous budget proposals, but deeply troubling for co-op leaders.
“While we’re disappointed in the priorities outlined in the budget proposal, NCBA CLUSA is confident that Congress will ultimately recognize that cooperatives are rebuilding America,” O’Brien said. “We look forward to working with lawmakers to preserve the federal investment needed to help create and sustain vibrant rural communities.”
According to grant recipients surveyed by the association CooperationWorks!, from 2008-2014, RCDG grants have developed more than 300 cooperative businesses and created or saved upwards of 4,000 cooperative jobs. The grants have also developed more than 350 non-cooperative small businesses and created or saved upwards of 6,000 non-cooperative jobs.
NCBA CLUSA monitors and responds to federal budget negotiations year-round to champion consistent RCDG funding levels and will continue to track the current budget reconciliation process, including efforts to reverse proposed cuts to critical foreign assistance programs.