Editorial: April 2015
Support for RUS lending program
North Dakota’s rural electric cooperatives offer thanks to our state’s congressional delegation for supporting the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) loan program.
In the U.S. Senate, Senators Heidi Heitkamp and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) have begun circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter that asks members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to fully fund the RUS loan program for next year. Sen. John Hoeven, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the rural development subcommittee, has signed the letter and will be a key ally when the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) budget comes before the committee.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Kevin Cramer has joined with about 200 members of the House to support full funding for the program as well. The letter circulating in the House is being led by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN).
The president’s Fiscal 2016 (FY16) budget proposal requested $6 billion for the RUS program; $1 billion more than the loan level authorized for FY15.
seeks to restrict half the program’s funding levels for environmental upgrades. We believe loan demand should drive what the highest and best use of the funds should be, so we’ll again be asking the House and Senate to reject these unneeded restrictions. And since loan demand across the country has not recovered from the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, the letters seek loan authorization at the same $5 billion loan level as FY15. The RUS loans return money to the treasury each year, and according to the Budget Request, will reduce the deficit by nearly $300 million in FY16 alone.
North Dakota’s electric cooperatives rely heavily on RUS financing to build and renew electric distribution, transmission and generation facilities. In the last five years, RUS has made $1.1 billion in loans to North Dakota’s electric cooperatives; over the past 10 years, the agency has made $1.6 billion in loans, all of which are being repaid in full.
The RUS electric program helps nearly 700 borrowers in 46 states finance safe, modern and efficient infrastructure. The agency was originally named the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) when created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. Since that time, the resulting loan portfolio has grown to about $46 billion.
Providing electric service in rural America is still a costly venture. The nation’s 950 electric cooperatives provide service to 12 percent of the nation’s electric consumers spread over 75 percent of the nation’s landmass. Having access to affordable financing like that provided by RUS is important to helping co-ops keep electricity flowing.
Retaining access to favorable financing from RUS is important to co-ops in their commitment to keep providing reliable and affordable electricity.