Today marks Day 35 of a partial shutdown of the federal government – now the longest government shutdown of any kind in U.S. history. The shutdown is slowing economic growth nationwide, but the pain is particularly felt in rural areas that receive funding or other forms of financial assistance from a number of federal government agencies. Rural counties participating in grant and loan guarantee services that benefit rural healthcare, housing, and broadband are on pause until the government re-opens.
Internet service providers and local governments planning broadband infrastructure projects were expecting major investments from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but the RUS is unable to distribute funding and rural broadband projects are on hold. In addition to $600 million in rural broadband funding, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue had planned significant investment in other areas of rural development through rural health care and housing programs. USDA issued over 120,000 mortgages for rural home purchases in 2018, but all housing programs at USDA are frozen by the shutdown. Some USDA loans to rural hospitals are also on hold as well.
Rural economies are feeling the effects of the government shutdown without important services from USDA and similar agencies. Lawmakers face mounting political pressure to work-out a compromise to reopen the government, but have been unsuccessful thus far.