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Special Message to the Congress on Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development.

March 10, 1971

To the Congress of the United States:

I am today proposing a new program of Rural Community Development through revenue sharing--the fourth of my six Special Revenue Sharing proposals. I have spoken of revenue sharing as a new partnership between the Federal Government and the State and local governments within our Federal system. The proposal I am advancing today would use that essential government partnership to strengthen an equally essential social and economic partnership between rural America, where the farms that feed us and the great open spaces that renew our spirit are found, and urban America, where the majority of our people and the greater share of our wealth are concentrated. Rural Americans deserve a full share in the Nation's prosperity and growth, just as urban Americans deserve cities that are livable and alive. Both objectives are attainable-and rural development revenue sharing, linked to urban development revenue sharing by the comprehensive planning proposal also put forward in this message, could be a giant step toward them.


Rural America begins with farm America. Agriculture was America's first industry, and it remains one of the keystones of our national economy today. It has made Americans the best-fed people in history, and now exports the produce of one-fourth of its acreage to help feed the world. American farmers have led all sectors of the economy in annual increases in productivity for most of the years in this century. This Nation's farms are among our most efficient producers, and they are of central importance to a strong future for rural America.

Yet, there is sharp irony in this success. Ever more fruitful, American agriculture has required fewer people every year to produce food and fibers for our people, and to supply the expanding export market for our commodities abroad.

Hence the departure of people from the farms began to swell as farming grew more mechanized, efficient, and large-scale. Americans living on farms numbered more than 30,000,000 in 1940; today that figure is only about 10,000,000. Once the farm people had left their homes--often the homes of generations in their families--the opportunities often did not exist in rural America to keep them close to those roots. While some jobs began to open up in agricultural service, supply, and processing enterprises, usually known as "agric-business," the number of openings was not nearly enough to match the number of people cast adrift by technological progress.

Migration began toward where people thought opportunities existed--the cities. Not only were there more jobs in the cities, but they paid more. For most decades in this century, the gap between median income in the cities and that in nonmetropolitan areas has been wide. Even though income gains outside the metropolis have been almost half again as great as those in the cities during the last decade, median family income in non-metropolitan areas is still 22 percent below that in metropolitan areas.

While the people who have been leaving rural America by the millions have often improved their own and their families' situations by leaving, the trend they represent has had several disturbing effects.

First, in rural America itself, the loss in human resources has compounded the problems of diversifying the economy and fostering a vigorous and progressive community life. Those who have chosen to stay have found it harder and harder to pay for and provide services such as good schools, health facilities, transportation systems, and other infrastructure attractive enough to keep people in rural America, or to lure jobs and opportunity to rural America. Many of the small towns which dot the countryside have to struggle for existence; they often have difficulty attracting good school teachers or physicians; many fight stagnation while most of the economy is expanding; they cannot give the older, the disadvantaged, the less educated people needed assistance and care.


At the same time the urban effects of migration have been profound. While the explosive growth in the proportion of Americans living in cities has not been fed solely by the influx of people from rural America--immigration from other countries has also been massive--the millions who have moved from the South and the Midwest to the North and the West have been a major factor in making a nation that was 75 percent rural a century ago, 73 percent urban today.

Many of these people pouring into the cities in search of opportunity have experienced difficulties in adapting to urban life and have required supportive services. Some made the transition successfully-but others have remained tax users rather than taxpayers.

Furthermore, the very size and density of many of our largest cities has produced new problems: whereas in the most rural areas it is hard to achieve economies of scale in public activities, the most heavily urban areas have grown far past the size range in which a community can function most economically. It often costs far more per capita to provide essential services, such as police protection, sanitation collection, and public transportation in our dense urban areas than in less congested smaller and medium-sized cities. Many of our cities have, in short, become inefficient and less and less governable. At times, this has led to near-paralysis of public services in our largest cities. Current trends indicate that unless there is a marked shift in public and private attitudes, the increase of population in and around our great metropolitan centers will continue, and the problems of urban management will be further aggravated.

In addition, by even conservative estimates, there will be some 75 million additional Americans by the end of the twentieth century. Whether this growth is beneficial or burdensome depends on our foresight in planning and preparing for it--a process that must begin now and must take a broader view than merely feeding the expansion of the megalopolis.

As never before, the Nation is beginning to see that urban America has a vital stake in the well-being and progress of rural America. This is one Nation, and for the good of all Americans we need one national policy of balanced growth.


For the sake of balanced growth, therefore, but even more for the sake of the farmer and all his neighbors in rural America--first-class citizens who deserve to live in first-class communities--I am proposing that the Federal Government re-think America's rural development needs and rededicate itself to providing the resources and the creative leadership those needs demand.

It takes many different kinds of activities to create rural development--to create opportunity. One must start with the individual-his education, his skill training, and his health. Next the individual needs to be linked to resources and markets through transportation. Public sector infrastructure such as water and sewers is needed to encourage industry to locate in new areas. The environment is also becoming an increasingly important factor in industrial locations.

Essentially what I am proposing is to unite the funding for a number of programs operating directly in rural areas and smaller cities into a Rural Community Development Revenue Sharing Program, to add $179 million to that fund, and then to bolster this effort with new initiatives in critically related areas, such as health and welfare reform.

The following chart shows the programs which I propose to combine into the Rural Development Revenue Sharing Program:



New Money $179 Million

Title V Regional Commissions

Appalachian Regional Commission

Economic Development Administration

Resource Conservation and Development Program


Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service


Rural Water and Waste Disposal Grants


Rural Environmental Assistance Program

Forestry Assistance Grants

Great Plains Agricultural Conservation Program

Water Bank Program

Tree Planting Grants

Altogether, the eleven programs listed above are spending $921 million in Fiscal 1971.

But much more is needed to extend to rural Americans the full share of national prosperity and the full participation in the rich benefits of our society, which they rightly deserve. Much more would be done if the Congress acts to set in motion the broad strategy for accelerated rural development which I have placed before it in recent weeks.

Rural communities throughout the nation would share in the $5 billion of General Revenue Sharing which I have proposed. Rural communities would receive direct assistance in building their human resources, their social services, and their economic base through my Special Revenue Sharing proposals for manpower, education, transportation and law enforcement. My proposals for improving our system of health care include Area Health Education Centers to be located in rural areas and financial incentives for doctors and providing medical care in scarcity areas. My welfare reform proposals would have immediate and dramatic effects on rural poverty: in the first year nearly $ 1 billion in new cash benefits would go into rural areas to add to the incomes of the millions of rural Americans who are poor or underemployed.

To unify and consolidate the rural development effort in each State--I am today proposing that the Federal Government establish a $1.1 billion fund to be shared among all the States for fully discretionary spending to meet their rural needs and accelerate their rural development. This would be accomplished by combining programs which I listed above into a new program of Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development, and by increasing their present annual funding of $921 million by $179 million during the first year.


Beginning January 1, 1972, these funds would be paid out to the States and to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam, in regular installments on a formula basis, according to an index of need based on three factors: the State's rural population, the State's rural per capita income compared to the national average of per capita incomes, and the State's change in rural population compared to the change in population of all States. All 53 recipients would sham equally in I percent of the funds. Every State would receive at least as much from Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development, as it now receives from the eleven existing rural assistance programs combined.

This proposal recognizes that patterns of development potential vary widely within the different States and seldom conform neatly to intra-State governmental jurisdictions. It therefore imposes no Federally dictated distribution of shared revenues within the States. Neither would it require matching or maintenance of effort spending by a State in return for the shared rural development funds. Indeed the shared funds could if necessary be used to match other Federal grants-in-aid for rural assistance. But there would be a firm requirement that all rural community development funds be spent for the direct benefit of rural people. The funds could be spent for any of the purposes now authorized under the existing aid programs, including the option of direct grant assistance to private firms which locate in rural communities.

Rural areas would be defined in this Act as counties with a population density less than 100 people per square mile, and all other counties, regardless of population density, which are not included in one of the 247 Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas (SMSAs) which the U.S. Census Bureau defines around cities of 50,000 or more.

I will also propose $100 million in additional non-formula funds for the Urban Community Development Special Revenue Sharing program, to assist those smaller cities of population between 20,000 and 50,000 which have been receiving grant assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development but which would not now be eligible for a formula share of Urban Community Development Revenue Sharing. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development would administer this fund on a discretionary basis. Such communities would thus be eligible for funds from both the urban and rural revenue sharing programs--as they should be, since many communities of this size have not only urban problems and needs but also strong rural development potential as economic and social opportunity centers for nearby rural counties. The same overlap would be true as well of some of the smaller and less densely populated Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas which have less than 100 people per square mile, and thus qualify for both formula grants under Urban Community Development Special Revenue Sharing, and use of funds from the Rural Community Development Special Revenue Sharing.

The Act would apply the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discriminatory use of the Federal money.


Conversion of the existing categorical aid programs for agriculture and development into Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development is a logical evolution in line with the history of these efforts and consistent with their basic purposes.

Over a number of years the Department of Agriculture has been moving to make its assistance to farmers and rural residents more effective and flexible by a steady process of decentralization. Placing these programs fully in the hands of the States is just one more step in sharpening their ability to deliver the services they were designed to provide. Whether the transfer will be beneficial and the transition smooth is a question to which the example of the Cooperative Extension Service may provide a partial answer. The States are ready to take charge of the Extension Service, which they already largely administer and which all States now fund above the present Federal contribution.

In the case of EDA, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Title V Commissions, revenue sharing in superseding them would actually incorporate the coordinated development approach that has made them successful, at the same time it removed some of the Federal "fences" that may have restricted their activities unduly in the past. The grass roots planning process which has proved itself under the Appalachian Regional Commission is carried over into the statewide development plan I am now proposing for all States under rural and urban development revenue sharing. Close account would be taken of the human factor and of the continuity of on-going development efforts as the program transition is effected. Counties that have launched projects under the Appalachian Regional Commission, for example, would continue to receive adequate funding to make good on the money already obligated for such projects.

With revenue sharing, therefore, as with all change, there would be adjustments to make but great benefits to be gained. Every single activity now carried on under the Commissions and categorical programs could be continued in any State whose own people decide it is worth continuing. The farm, forest, and conservation programs that have succeeded in the past could go right on doing so-and freed of Federal restrictions, they could probably reach out farther and keep better pace with changing needs and technologies. In each instance the people of the State would make the decision.


What Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development would do is to remove many of the negative and inhibiting side effects which now plague rural assistance as a result of categorical narrowness, lack of coordination, and excessive Federal involvement. By combining these programs we could produce a new whole significantly greater than the sum of the present parts. It is worthwhile here to discuss some of the problems that would be eliminated--principally inflexibility, priority distortion and flawed accountability.

Inflexibility: As well-intentioned as past rural development efforts have been, strict Federal eligibility rules have often stood in the way of fair sharing of all the Federal resources for rural development, or have made it difficult for States and localities to do what they must to attract industry and services. For instance, many parts of the Midwest, which experienced some of the heaviest rural out-migration in the Nation during the 1960s, still do not qualify for Economic Development Administration grants.

In other cases Federal standards have acted to bar aid from those communities in a region where it could do the most good. Experts in rural development feel that the most leverage is achieved by reinforcing healthy development trends, rather than fighting them--that is, by concentrating aid in these smaller and medium sized cities of a rural area which have shown strength and effort in attracting industry. Every area of rural America has such centers of potential growth. Using government assistance to strengthen their development trends could make the difference in attracting new job-producing industry and expanding employment opportunities for rural people living in the surrounding counties. It could also help these communities attract doctors, teachers and others whose services are so needed in or near rural areas. Yet current Federal program restrictions, by and large, do not permit aid to be used this way, because of a "worst-first" criterion which often puts funds into areas that lack the development potential to help either themselves or others near them--rather than using funds to open up new opportunities regionally so that benefits flow out to low-potential areas nearby.

Distortion of State Budgets: Narrow Federal project definitions can force States and localities to spend scarce revenues on "matching shares," urgent community priorities aside, or risk the loss of Federal funds. Once begun, a Federal project may demand additional local spending, beyond the matching money, for support facilities to tie the project into community usefulness.

Flawed Accountability: The quasi-governmental agencies which often exercise a determining influence on the conduct of these programs tend to obscure and fragment responsibility for decisions made and therefore to subvert the democratic accountability of elected officials. Regional commissions, comprised of a Federal Co-chairman and Governors from member States, take part in many program and planning decisions which really affect only one Governor's State. Too often the Federal officials responsible for rural assistance are geographically distant, and the local, State or multi-State institutions that have a say are politically insulated or remote.


Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development would be administered initially by the Secretary of Agriculture; eventually both this program and the urban community development program would come under the direction of the Department of Community Development whose formation I have proposed. In addition to paying out each year's rural development funds to the States and territories, the Secretary of Agriculture would stay abreast of rural development aspects of the statewide development plans which each Governor would file with him annually.

The statewide planning process which would help States and localities coordinate activities carded on under both urban and rural community development revenue sharing will be established in legislation that I will submit shortly. It would require annual preparation of a comprehensive statewide development plan outlining spending intentions for programs in metropolitan, suburban, smaller city, and rural areas alike. The $100 million Planning and Management Assistance program which I proposed in my message to the Congress on Urban Community Development Revenue Sharing would provide funds which States and local jurisdictions could use in this planning process.

The Governor of each State would be given the responsibility for drawing up the statewide development plan. Formation of the plan would be based on a consultative process which considers plans submitted by State-established, multi-jurisdictional planning districts covering all areas of the State. Planning bodies of these districts would be composed of local elected officials. One member from each of the district planning bodies would sit on a panel which would assist the Governor in the planning process. The Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture could accept an alternative consultative process proposed by the State.

The completed plan would be filed with the Secretaries of Agriculture and of Housing and Urban Development--not for their approval, but as a declaration of intent; a Governor could amend his plan by letter during the course of a year.

The process of developing the statewide plan would focus official concern and public attention upon the inter-relationship of urban and rural community development within the State. The plan could identify potential growth areas, potential new community development sites, and environmentally important areas. It should seek to integrate all important community development factors, including land use.

All the money a State receives under Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development would have to be spent for the benefit of persons in rural areas as outlined in the statewide plan. A State could of course also supplement its own rural development activities with money received under General Revenue Sharing and under other Special Revenue Sharing programs within program definitions. The Secretary of Agriculture would conduct an annual post-audit of State rural development activities, with payment of the next year's rural revenue sharing funds conditional upon State compliance with rural development spending plans for the year past.


To review briefly:

The major challenge facing rural America is to diversify its economy and to provide full opportunity for its people to enjoy the benefits of American life. Meeting this challenge will enhance the quality of life for those who remain to operate the nation's family farms and for all their neighbors in the small towns and countryside of America. As a secondary effect--like upstream watershed management for downstream flood control-meeting the rural challenge will also help to relieve the overburdened urban structure by stemming rural out-migration and attracting a share of future growth to rural communities.

The key to a rural development strategy is my proposal for $1.1 billion in Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development--money which all States and territories would share and which they could spend in their rural areas as they deem wisest. Other proposed Federal assistance for rural America includes part of the $5 billion General Revenue Sharing program and part of five Special Revenue Sharing programs, as well as the benefits of a reformed welfare system and an improved health care system.

At the core of rural development revenue sharing would be eight agricultural grant programs and three broad development assistance programs now in being. Consolidating them, the revenue sharing approach would build on decentralizing trends in the agricultural programs and on the multi-State, State, and multi-county development planning experience accumulated under EDA and the regional commissions. It would do away with narrow aid categories, spending restrictions, duplication, and red tape now surrounding these programs. It would make the money now devoted to them go further and would provide more money.

Existing programs and development projects could continue or not at the discretion of each State, and the right of choice would rest close to the rural people at whom the aid is directed. A statewide planning requirement with a broadly representative input would promote coordinated development of a sort not now approached and would insure that all areas of the State have a voice in the planning process; but in no case could rural development revenue sharing money be diverted from rural needs.


More money, plus more freedom to spend it, plus better planning in doing so, add up to better living for rural Americans and brighter futures for rural communities. Mutual benefits of the urban-rural partnership would be manifest as cities enjoyed the fruits of a healthy agricultural economy and the relief of more evenly distributed population growth, while rural areas felt the effect of new social and economic advantages. Rural and urban communities would no longer siphon off one another's strengths and resources nor shunt problems and burdens from one to the other. They would progress together in a dynamic balance, as partners in the best sense.


The White House

March 10, 1971

Note: On the same day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing by Clifford M. Hardin, Secretary of Agriculture, Maurice H. Stans, Secretary of Commerce, George W. Romney, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and John R. Price, Jr., Special Assistant to the President, and two fact sheets on the program.

On April 6, 1971, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing by Edwin L. Harper, Special Assistant to the President, on the hold harmless base line figures for States and localities under special revenue sharing, and a fact sheet on the figures for rural community development special revenue sharing.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress on Special Revenue Sharing for Rural Community Development. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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