Benoit Requests that Federal Representatives Protect Funds for Rural Communities
RIVERSIDE – Rural Riverside County communities that have historically qualified for grants and loans to improve water quality and build affordable housing are set to lose their eligibility to apply for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development funding.
Supervisor John J. Benoit is introducing a resolution at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting asking federal representatives and the USDA to work together to ensure that communities that are rural in nature, including the cities of Blythe, Coachella and Desert Hot Springs, remain eligible for this funding.
“I’m concerned about the devastating impact to Riverside County’s rural communities if they are eliminated from eligibility,” said Supervisor John J. Benoit. “I am asking my colleagues to support federal efforts to ensure these communities don’t lose access to crucially important programs that are credited for increasing affordable housing.”
USDA Rural Development funding has provided more than $200 million for various community facilities, infrastructure, farmworker and non-farmworker affordable family and migrant housing for rural Riverside County communities.
Eligibility for funding through the USDA Rural Development programs is determined by, among other factors, population size as established by the Census. For a community to qualify as rural, it must have a population of less than 20,000 and not be located in a metropolitan area.
In 2000, Congress enacted a grandfather clause that allowed any community that was deemed rural in 1990 to continue to be eligible until the 2010 Census. The grandfather clause expires March 27. Implementing 2010 Census data will disqualify 900 communities nationwide and 11 communities in Riverside County from applying for USDA funding.
This change impacts the cities of Blythe and Desert Hot Springs and particularly the city of Coachella, which has received more than $28 million in housing funds for farmworker self-help home ownership programs in the last five years.
Other jurisdictions that will lose the “rural” classification are the unincorporated communities of Cherry Valley, French Valley, Lakeland Village, Mead Valley, Temescal Valley and the cities of Calimesa, Menifee and Wildomar.
Supervisor Benoit’s resolution recommends the USDA expand the definition of “rural” to take into consideration rural characteristics beside population figures. Other factors include the agricultural character of a community, income levels of those families earning less than 50 percent of the area median income, unemployment and the number of residents per household.