Amid the election-year rancor on Capitol Hill, there’s positive news for electric cooperatives on the Rural Utilities Service Electric Loan Program that supports a strong, reliable electric infrastructure.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $5.5 billion loan level for the program for fiscal year 2017, while rejecting language proposed by the Obama administration that would have placed curbs on RUS lending.
The RUS funding was part of S. 2956, the appropriations bill for Agriculture, Rural Development and other agencies that cleared the committee unanimously on May 19. The measure contains $126.5 billion in mandatory spending and $21.3 billion in discretionary spending.
“This appropriations bill would help protect public health, enhance agricultural research and promote rural development throughout the country,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
On April 19, the House Appropriations Committee included $5.5 billion for RUS in its fiscal 2017 agriculture spending bill, which also excluded the President’s funding restriction language.
Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president for government relations, said the actions demonstrate strong support for the RUS program in Congress.
“Electric co-ops have worked hard to maintain and build upon years of bipartisan support for RUS, despite the increasingly partisan and divisive political climate in Washington which has not been conducive to government spending,” Johnson said.
“Co-ops garnering an increased level of support for the RUS program, despite such political tides, demonstrates that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle truly listen to co-ops across 47 states, including members who might not have a co-op presence in their districts.”
Earlier this year, 217 members of the House and 38 members of the Senate signed bipartisan letters to their respective agriculture appropriations subcommittees advocating for the $5.5 billion level. The number of signatures broke a record for both letters, which traditionally are sent each year.
In the House, the effort was led by Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. In the Senate, the effort was led by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.
The $5.5 billion RUS loan level would be the same as in fiscal 2016 and up from $5 billion in fiscal 2015.
The Senate and House bills both include funding for other important programs, such as $750 million for the Guaranteed Underwriter Program. The program facilitates the loan process through a partnership with lenders such as the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation.
The Senate and House bills differ slightly on support for the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program for community job creation and retention. The Senate bill includes $33.1 million for REDL&G, while the House set a $50 million mark.
The Senate allocated $8 million for the Rural Energy Savings Program, which the Department of Agriculture established as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. The program, a joint venture between co-ops and USDA, will support low-interest loans to homeowners to help with the upfront cost of energy-efficiency improvements.
Both spending bills await consideration on their respective House and Senate floors.
Originally posted on www.ect.coop