WASHINGTON, D.C. [04/17/20]—In an effort to prevent people in small towns and rural communities—particularly low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities—from losing their housing during the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) today led a bipartisan group of 16 colleagues in pressing top Senate Appropriators for emergency funding to help rural renters.

Sen. Smith—a member of the Senate Housing and Banking Committee—said that 86 percent of counties in the United States struggling with persistent poverty are in rural areas, and yet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service Program received no funding in the recently-passed legislation to address the pandemic. This vital program helps low-income households, seniors and persons with disabilities in rural communities access affordable housing. 

The push came in a letter Friday to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and the panel’s Ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

"Many of these rural households were already one crisis away from losing stable housing, and now residents’ incomes are likely to decline due to illness or unemployment as a result of COVID-19," Sen. Smith and her colleagues wrote. "It is more important than ever to ensure that individuals and families living in small towns and rural areas are not forgotten during this pandemic. We urge you to provide robust emergency funding for Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance in the next supplemental appropriations package to mitigate the impact of this crisis in rural communities."

In addition to Sen. Tina Smith, the letter was signed by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Deb Fischer (R-Nebr.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.), and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.).

A copy of the letter can be found here and below: 

The Honorable Richard Shelby
Chairman
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

CC: Chairman Hoeven and Ranking Member Merkley, 
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture

Dear Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Leahy,

As Congress works to craft another bipartisan stimulus package, we ask you to consider the urgent need for housing assistance in rural communities. The appropriations division of the bipartisan CARES Act included around $3 billion in assistance to help housing providers keep low-income renters in their homes during this economic crisis, but no funding was allocated for the Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Rural Rental Assistance Program. USDA’s Rural Rental Assistance Program is a vital form of assistance to low-income households, seniors and persons with disabilities residing in USDA-financed rental properties. All across the country, in both urban and rural areas, low-income households are struggling to afford essential payments as their incomes decline. To prevent a wave of housing instability in USDA-financed rental properties in rural areas, future legislation addressing the COVID-19 economic crisis must include emergency funding for rural rental assistance within USDA’s Rural Housing Service.

It is imperative that the federal response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 public health emergency does not leave rural communities behind. Sixty million Americans, or 1 in 5 Americans, live in rural areas1. We also know that eighty six percent of counties in the United States struggling with persistent poverty are in rural areas2, and yet USDA’s Rural Housing Service programs received no supplemental funding in the CARES Act. Many of these rural households were already one crisis away from losing stable housing, and now residents’ incomes are likely to decline due to illness or unemployment as a result of COVID-19. It is more important than ever to ensure that individuals and families living in small towns and rural areas are not forgotten during this pandemic.

We urge you to provide robust emergency funding for Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance in the next supplemental appropriations package to mitigate the impact of this crisis in rural communities.

Thank you for your work on these important issues. 

Sincerely,