Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks on Signing Into Law the Rural Development Policy Act of 1980

September 24, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Senator Leahy and Congressman Wes Watkins, Congressman Nolan and others who are assembled here, ladies and gentlemen who are interested in the future of rural America-future of America:

This event brings back very special memories to me. In 1972 when I was a Governor, I was privileged to appear in Tifton before Senator Talmadge and Senator Hubert Humphrey, who were having hearings then on the Rural Development Act of that year.

It was an exciting thing for me to meet with these two leaders and to see the enthusiasm with which the people of south Georgia, the rural area of my State, welcomed an opportunity to spell out their own needs to the Congress of the United States with a hope that some of their ideals and some of their dreams could be realized. That landmark bill, as you know, expanded the rural development mission of the Farmers Home Administration and gave the Secretary of Agriculture responsibility for developing and coordinating rural development activities throughout the Federal Government.

Many of you here were involved in the evolution of that legislation. Unfortunately, the opportunity which was presented for the Rural Development Act of 1972 and what it offered to those who supported it has never been fully realized, and its full impact has never been grasped. The basic reason was a lack of commitment to creating a comprehensive rural policy throughout the executive branch of Government and a lack of vision to see the tremendous potential for our entire Nation—not just for rural communities—and for the land and the urban communities of this country.

When I took office with this memory fresh in my mind, I took action to correct this defect in our societal life, to establish consistent and overall approaches to the needs of both our cities and our rural areas. No one in contemporary America articulated the need for this balanced approach more eloquently nor more fervently than did the late Senator Hubert Humphrey. And I appointed men and women to my own administration, including the Vice President and certainly the Secretary of Agriculture, who shared Senator Humphrey's sense of the interdependence between urban America on the one hand, and rural America on the other.

The pride which all of us feel today in what we have accomplished is not only well-justified but is also deeply personal for many in this room. This is a bright prospect for our country. I know how important this gathering is because I know how important rural America is to our country. As a farmboy myself, as an organizer and administrator for a number of years of a seven-county rural development planning commission, as a State senator representing a rural district, and also as a Governor representing a predominantly rural State and, of course, as President, I believe I know rural America very well.

I know its greatness, I know its beauty, and I know its strength. I know its resilience in time of trouble and trial and testing, and I know the character of the people who live in rural America and the critically important role they play in the production of food and fiber, of energy, of wood and minerals.

I've just finished a trip to some of the key States of our Nation—to Illinois, to California, to Oregon, to Washington-and everywhere I went I saw vividly displayed the contribution to our Nation's strategic strength of our agricultural production, particularly with the exports to foreign countries which are rising so rapidly.

I understand the ultimate strategic value of our land and what it means now and what it can mean in the future as a force for peace, for extending the beneficent influence of our country in a constructive and a peaceful way throughout the other nations of the world.

I also know the problems of rural America: the relatively low quality of housing for many who are poverty-stricken; the isolation of a rural family; the absence of any sort of public transportation; and the deprivation of services that most of us take for granted; the very high incidence of some kinds of disease; the lack of adequate medical care for those who suffer; the lack of facilities for the aged; and the fragmentation of families, because of poverty, with shrinking landholdings and very high requirements for investment in farm machinery to stay economically viable. The rapid changes taking place in rural America, some of it uncontrollable, some of those changes not adequately assuaged in the lives of people most directly affected, the hardships and deprivations are vivid memories in my mind.

Some of you have heard me say that the greatest single event in my life was not being elected President, but when the lights were turned on in our house by the REA. Our life was transformed; a family that had been burdened down with literally 16 or 18 hours of hard work per day, with little opportunity for outside interest except to go to school and to go to church, was certainly broadened with Some leisure time and some responsibility, on a national basis, to protect that vital program which had been so hard in being born.

This kind of advance has also been important to me, and just as we counted on the Rural Electrification Administration to light up rural America 40 years ago, so today we're counting on that same agency and hundreds of rural electric cooperatives across this Nation to help us achieve a future of energy independence.

Those rural electric co-ops, with the intimate involvement of the customers who comprise them, can be on the cutting edge of advances so important to us in energy conservation and, therefore, increasing the security of our country. You might be interested in knowing that 44 percent of all the rural electric loans ever made by REA have been made during the last 3 1/2 years since I've been President.

I also know, personally, the tremendous help that the Farm Security Administration and its successor, the Farmers Home Administration, have been in providing credit to buy land, to plant crops, and to modernize equipment.

Today, the Farmers Home Administration is assisting rural families both on and off the farm to build or to rehabilitate their homes, to build water and sewer systems, and to obtain the necessary credit to own and to operate job-producing businesses, primarily on the farm; in some cases, through cooperative efforts off the farm.

The Farmers Home Administration, in cooperating with other Federal and State agencies, is financing the building of clinics to make health care more accessible and affordable for isolated rural residents, the building and rehabilitation of transportation systems, and the construction of gasohol plants—I visited one in Springfield, Illinois, this week—and other energy facilities. To help it undertake these new and expanded ventures, while still meeting its traditional mandate to serve family farmers, we provided resources to the Farmers Home Administration equal to half of all the loans and grants ever made during its 44-year history.

This deep commitment on the part of my administration, with the good assistance of the Congressmen here and others with them, is an indication of the importance that we attach to the REA and its various programs and the Farmers Home Administration. The rural resources of the Economic Development Administration have nearly doubled during the last 3 1/2 years.

But most important of all, this administration has forged the Nation's first comprehensive small community and rural development policy. We've already made significant strides in accomplishing many of the initiatives—such as those I've described in energy, health, housing, transportation, and services for the elderly-called for in that policy hammered out, not by us in an isolated environment of the White House or the Congress, but hammered out with full consultations among rural leaders from throughout this country, who have assembled in their own regions and who came to the Cabinet Room or the Oval Office and met with the congressional leaders on the Hill. This is indeed a rural program of comprehensive development, initiated and controlled and forged at the grassroots level.

We've entered into a close partnership with the Nation's Governors and with local officials and with private leaders to make sure that the success of this program is guaranteed. Today I am pleased to sign the Rural Development Policy Act of 1980, which places into law many of the reforms that were developed by this rural policy. It also creates the position of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Small Community and Rural Development.

This legislation will enable the Farmers Home Administration to assist small communities in establishing circuit-rider programs, to provide assistance in economic and community development. I'm today directing the Farmers Home Administration to act promptly to make funding immediately available for these circuit riders, who will go into a community, assess what can be done, that the initiative be from the local people, but provide counsel and assistance as necessary.

This bill also extends our authority to conduct rural development research and extension activities. While we've made good progress in identifying our objectives and charting our course, all of us know that much remains to be done. With the tools provided in this bill and with the continued support and dedication and hard work of all of you and the people whom you represent in the small towns and communities in the countryside of rural America, we'll make even more progress in the future.

After I sign this bill, in the next few minutes, I would then like to call on Senator Leahy, one of the sponsors of this measure and a champion of rural development in Congress to say a few words. And substituting for Tom Foley, the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, I'd like to call on Congressman Wes Watkins, who's the Chairman of the Rural Caucus to say a few words, outlining from their points of view how important this legislation is to rural America, all those who live there, and what their contribution is to our great country. Thank you very much.

SENATOR LEAHY. Thank you very much, Mr. President. You know, as a Vermonter, I naturally feel a great thrill any time to come to the White House. Quite frankly, sir, the two most thrilling times that I've felt were last December when you and I talked about the rural policy statement and today, actually see it signed into law.

I think that of all the many things that you can be proud of, and there are so many, that for all of us who live in rural America, whether it's in Vermont or Georgia or anywhere else in the country, you can be most proud of this. Everybody looks for a way to reduce Federal waste, to cut redtape, to improve program efficiency, to expand services to the needy, without causing large increases in the Federal budget. But in this, not only have we done that, not only have we removed a great deal of bureaucracy, but what we have done far more, Mr. President, is that we've moved on to help those 4 million rural households without running water for sewage facilities, the 20,000 small towns with no public transportation system, the 26 million rural Americans living in medically underserved areas. What we've done really, no less than to say to one-third—one-third of the people of our great country—that they are indeed part of our great country. And, Mr. President, we all owe you a great deal of thanks for this.

REPRESENTATIVE WATKINS. I would like to express my thanks to President Jimmy Carter, my colleagues, and many of you who've supported this particular piece of legislation. And I think it's only fitting that a chapter secretary of the Plains, Georgia, FFA signed into law a major piece of legislation for this country.

I'd like to make a point. I hope this is not missed by the media here—the significance of this bill as far as this particular Congressman goes.

How many of you read the book by John Steinbeck, "The Grapes of Wrath"? Well, some of you may not have read between the lines, but this movement that occurred at that time, Mr. President, was the largest movement of people ever recorded in history, the largest migration of people, the largest uprooting of families ever recorded in the history of our country.

At the same time this was occurring on up in the forties there, our country saw fit to write the Marshall plan, to rebuild the economic base of Europe. Twenty years later, during the riots of the sixties, Mr. President, our country—and probably rightly so, where many of our loved ones had gone—saw fit to write a massive urban renewal program. But, Mr. President, our country has never seen fit to write a program to rebuild rural America. And I think this is the significance of this particular piece of legislation.

This is a piece of legislation that will grant us, for the first time, a voice in Federal Government—to speak out for equity and fairness in the programs. And we've got a lot to do, when only 17 percent of the money from community development bloc grants goes to communities of less than 50,000 while only 25 percent of UDAG moneys go to people in communities of less than .50,000; where only 7 percent of the money for handicapped children in education goes to rural America, and our children are handicapped also out there.

So, Mr. President, I want to say thank you for a beginning, for a step forward, and we look forward to working with you for 5 more years in doing the job.

THE PRESIDENT. I know all of you appreciate these two excellent statements, obviously from the bottom of the hearts of those who made them. And I agree with Wes Watkins that this is a long delayed step in the right direction toward giving equality of treatment to the millions of families who live in rural America, whose voice has not always been as strong as it might have been where the organizational cohesiveness has deprived them of an adequate voice and influence.

But I believe, in the future, that what we do for these families and for these communities will pay rich dividends for our country. And as Pat Leahy pointed out, this is not an additional bureaucratic structure, not a massive allotment of new Federal funds, not a very costly program. It will be an additional burden for the taxpayers of this Nation, but a coordination of programs as they presently exist and an establishment of a degree of equity and fairness that is indeed long overdue.

An ancillary part of this bill which I've just signed will provide good water resource supplies for South Dakota. It just happens that these two issues have been brought together, and Congressman Daschle and Senator McGovern deserve a lot of credit for that, to make sure that water resources money is spent wisely and effectively, so that the ill-advised project is being phased out, and a very badly needed project in that State is being approved.

Again, let me express my deep thanks to the Members of Congress who've been so instrumental in making this progress possible, and particularly to thank all of you who helped to forge this project and whose success will depend upon how well you perform your jobs in the future.

I don't have any doubt about the success. It's a good day for rural America, indeed, for America. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:48 p.m. at the signing ceremony in the East Room at the White House.

Following the President's departure from the East Room, Assistant to the President Jack H. Watson, Jr., and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jim Williams addressed the audience. The remarks of Mr. Watson and Deputy Secretary Williams are included in the White House press release.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing Into Law the Rural Development Policy Act of 1980 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251640

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