Posts Tagged ‘usda’

Federal programs on rural housing should have options to suit the real world needs of the people.  President Obama’s UDSA is very active in improving the quality of life in rural America; so I tip my hat to everyone involve from Secretary Tom Vilsack to local office specialists.  We shouldn’t forget the authorization and appropriations of the U.S. House and Senate.  However, I would love to see a little flexibility in rural housing programs.

The Direct Rural Housing Loan Program seeks to get low income people into new homes.  We know that the economy is stimulated when new houses are constructed and that home-owning families are the backbone of our nation. To my understanding, this program would put a family with an income between 20 and 30K in a house between 90 to 124K.  The highest cost house would be a net zero home, a home with advance energy technology that zeros out the utility bill.

While that concept sounds wonderful, everyone can’t afford wonderful.  To me, your financial obligations reflect your pocket and that goes for car, children and homes.  If you grew up struggling, your mentality should be that of Scarlett O’Hara when she said, “As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again.”  Okay, invoking Scarlett is being a little dramatic but low income people should have a preoccupation with building wealth (nest egg) and living inside their means—everyone should.

When a family has more house than they can comfortably afford, it’s called house poor.  Of course, USDA has guys smarter than me calculating affordability.  However, 20 or 30 years is a long time for a person to service a “house note” when their income is from a job rather than a more stable career.  Current families are often single parent or one income so that’s one layoff from housing disaster.  Actually, the recent mortgage crisis was exacerbated by the fact that unemployed people with houses didn’t have the mobility to search for employment elsewhere.

I grew up in a small community of USDA and VA homes and the general rule to me is double your income—a house should comfortably cost twice a family’s income.   For example, a single mom with an income of 25K can afford a 50K home.  That amount won’t get you a new home other than a mobile home.  Mobile homes can be really nice but we are too close to the hurricane region.  If I had a trailer, you can best believe I would brick it up…I know, not a good look.

In rural Georgia, 50k will get you an older home but the headaches will come from concerns about the bones.  Bones of homes to me are the foundation, wood framing, roof, plumbing, electrical, etc. and that’s before worries about energy cost from HVAC, windows, doors, insulation and dated appliances.

USDA should better market their current programs to qualified citizens. If they find a considerable amount of surplus funding, a program should be created to help people retro-fit older homes…perhaps homes in the family.  Grandma passes away and the family wants 30K for her 1980s USDA house.  The new owner could do a 20K energy-based renovation and still have a house for half the cost of the earlier mentioned USDA program.  I think some agencies in the federal and state governments are doing this now.

I would take an older house on a concrete slab and go to work.  If the house has siding, I would remove it and put in state of the art insulation.  The best colleges and technical schools should be researching ways to blow foam insulation under the house, in the roof and into exterior walls.  The answer might be gutting the drywall inside the house to create a proper insulation shell from the inside.

In rural counties, more families are moving out into the county and that’s nice.  Often, the county seat is a town left to slowly decay but it shouldn’t be that way.  Those older homes could be a first step for some families and they can pay off that house then get a new home later.

My high school Economics teacher was a Vietnam bombardier and had a master’s degree.  When he looked into how much the house he wanted would cost, he went to the technical college at night and on the weekend to learn construction.  Mr. Tomlinson reduced the cost of his house considerably by putting in that work himself.  In Georgia, we have an excellent technical college system and the presidents of those institutions display amazing flexibility regarding community needs.

These schools and the four year regional colleges once had active continuing education programs.  We need a short-time certification program that would prepare a homeowner to do demolition, insulation and certain other tasks on a renovation.

I can read faces and some families are reluctant to tell USDA housing officials that certain programs are a little too rich for their blood.  These families don’t know that the Clinton Administration was and the Obama Administration is all ears….let them hear from you and let’s get working folks into affordable homes.


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Young people today often lust for the expensive lifestyle of a rapper.   Without family wealth or marketable skills, the wrong path has been a horrible option. Donald Trump is right about the exportation of jobs and available jobs require knowledge of STEM subjects… Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  While these important fields involve many hours of studying, we should remember how many hours are spent trying to make the NBA or the rap charts.

President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are on a mission to ensure that kids from every rural area have the STEM opportunities to prepare them for the jobs of the future.  Southwest Georgia is one of the poorest areas of this nation but the students in five SOWEGA counties will have advanced distance learning connections with researchers at Georgia Tech “stemming” from USDA grants.  These young people will be ready to help keep America at the forefront of advancements and they will be able to purchase the nice life from using their minds.  I bet they will be more prudent with their dollars than most rappers and ballers.

The following press release includes a quote from my college classmate Quinton Robinson that reads

“This will exponentially expand effectiveness of educational programs and help ensure rural Georgia is workforce ready”, said USDA Rural Development Georgia state director, Quinton Robinson.

At Albany State’s homecoming this month, the fellows are going to say thanks for making sure kids today have resources we didn’t have.  As quiet as it is kept, HCBUs produce graduates who often advocate for people and communities that could use a hand up…not a hand out.


Keith McCants is my favorite young person in American politics.  This conservative/moderate blogs at Peanut Politics when he isn’t getting up “before day in the morning” to work as a welder at the bus plant in Fort Valley.  Oh yea, he is also seeking reelection to the Oglethorpe, Georgia City Council.  And the fellow was born two weeks after I graduated from high school in 1982.

When Democrats and Republicans want to know what a real working man thinks about an issue, they call Keith while he is coming from or going to build America.  Donald Trump says we don’t make anything in this country anymore but he should tell that to Keith’s aching muscles.

Too many young people are focused on sports skills, rap skills, shake dancing skills and I better stop right there skills.  My daddy would say that Keith has marketable skills and recently Keith put a video of a young lady on facebook that was too exciting.  This young business woman was finishing drywall; she has the skills to pay the bills on a HGTV style.

When I was a kid, John Travolta’s character on Saturday Night Fever did a bunch of dancing after he spent the day learning how to sell paint at the hardware store. In the old school, you burn off youthful energy by attending college, serving in the military or learning a career from the ground up.  If young people stay focus and patient, they will eventually make manager or start their own businesses.

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The Congress today is a mess and it will take dramatic changes to fix it.  I can’t believe that the multi-year Farm Bill can’t get passed.  Are you kidding me?  When I worked on the Hill, they could almost voice vote this important bill but now the hard left and hard right are basically too hard.  Compromising moderates/centrists are nowhere to be found. Hell, compromise is a dirty word in D.C. these days.                

The Farm Bill was once a seven year act that authorized most USDA programs and operations. It’s vital because everyone needs a safe and affordable food supply.  Big commodities like wheat, corn and cotton would receive “assistance” so farmland was happy and feeding assistance programs would generate support from urban legislators.  Actually, WIC, the School Lunch/Breakfast Program, supplemental commodities for seniors and the needy, and Food Stamps helped the farmland and cities at the same time because farmers could have additional markets for their products.

With the recent Farm Bill debacle, the hardline left protested $20 billion in cuts that hardline righties wanted in Food Stamps.  Don’t get me started on all the biblical references to helping the poor or the general idea that too much assistance can make people softer…weak.

My thoughts go to the old Fram oil filter ad that said “you can pay me now or you can pay me later.”  Hungry kids can’t learn at school.  Teens looking at starving siblings might turn to drug selling and really cost the public money.  Children with poor nutrition are sickly and cost billions in health care. On the other hand, the hard right argues that people shouldn’t have kids until they can afford them.  It is fascinatingly ironic to see fat kids on Food Stamps.  I have a niece who told me that she stopped by the store to get a few items on a budget near the end of the month (bread and cold cuts)…she attended college in the ACC.  A young mother in front of her in the line was buying spendy seafood with food stamps.  So, my smart mouth kin said, “you’ll welcome” under her breath. 

Congress’s approval rating is at a record low and members seem more concerned about catering to special interest groups than conferring with colleagues about improving our nation.  The best families in America are those with limited involvement with government.  Midwestern famers with Scandinavian roots simply put the seed in ground, cultivate crops and then go to market. 

The future of my community would be brighter if we trained kids to do it without the government.  We need a new crop of politicians who would say that.  When the far right is busy cutting federal spending on poor people, they should get their friends to look at governmental funds for corporate welfare.  In some ways, we are all feeding on the government.

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Should USDA programs be deeply cut?

Some budget crunchers want to put agriculture spending on the table with other discretionary spending.  While there is fat at USDA, I say we must remember that everyone eats food.  We all need a safe and affordable food supply and the Obama campaign promise to use ag research and technology as “soft power”–bread rather than bullets around the world. 

Richard Hass with the Council on Foreign Relations recently said that one million dollars is the cost of having one soldier in Afghanistan for one year.  But, farm and nutrition programs are about to get the ax.  Less than 2% of the American population is involved in farming but that 2% feeds the nation.  In Georgia, we have ag research colleges at UGA, ABAC and Fort Valley State.  The ground-breaking techniques from these institutions are amazing.  Farming is hard work and hard financially.  Without USDA programs, family farms would be endangered and huge corporation farms would be the future.

High schools, vocational schools and four-year colleges should help students prepare for careers in food and fiber production that doesn’t require tilling the soil.  Food is big business and kids could prep for jobs like Wal-mart distribution managers, meat inspectors and Whole Foods managers.

Federal food programs are win-win because farmers get to produce more crops and kids shouldn’t be hungry.  Yes, it’s the parents’ job to feed their children but hungry kids are too much while we spend trillions on other things. We know that people who have healthier diets cost less in medical expense (bad eaters are digging  their own graves.)  

Former House Ag Committee chairman Kika de la Garza often told the story about touring a nuclear submarine and asking the officers what forces the vessel to come up from the bottom of the sea.  The officers said that could desalinated water and the boat produces its own energy but they come up for food.  We all eat.

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If Sarah Palin is Mamma Grizzly, I am naming Mrs. Shirley Sherrod the Brown Thrasher because since Palin and I were college students, Mrs. Sherrod has been fighting the good fight patiently. Notice how you can’t say “Shirley” or Sherrod anymore than you can say “Rosa Parks,” “Lena Horne” or “Nancy Wilson”—that’s how we do it in the real South.  “Mrs.” and “Mr.” are signs of respect.  The lady in the cafeteria is “Mrs.” and it is “yes madam”  –a lesson one Capitol Hill intern learn the hard way from yours truly.  It was a teachable moment. 

The Thrasher is the state bird of Georgia but most people did not know that until Atlanta’s hockey team took the name.  Mrs. Sherrod and Mr. Charles Sherrod have been encouraging Georgians to want more from themselves and aim higher for years–basically transition from the plantation mentality.  Their efforts to keep Black farmland in family hands were noble but as soon as granddaddy’s body was cold, that land was sold and the greedy grands were heading to the BMW dealership.   Land: they are not making any more of it.

Mrs. Sherrod taking that position with USDA was seen as the crowning event in a long career since she had been working for “rural development” her whole life.  Why do people sleep on the USDA?  Every person needs safe, affordable food; clean water and fresh air.  While urban improvement generally falls under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, USDA covers the farmland and rural communities.  If you want to slow the flight of rural people into the bulging cities like Atlanta, it starts with Mrs. Sherrod and others (like me) who haven’t given up on small town America.  We can’t forget about the suburbs are which are blurring the line between city and country.  If you travel north on I-75, Atlanta starts about 15 miles above Macon.  There isn’t a wildcat in your backyard; you are in the wildcat’s backyard.  Watching young professionals move to rural areas, tend their own gardens and telecommute with their laptops is too cool.

Mrs. Sherrod should think Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Dr. Howard Dean, and Mike Huckabee then passing on that USDA job.  These former candidates are doing bigger and better outside elected office or governmental employment.  Book deal, T.V. show, and the lecture circuit—it’s her turn to have a victory lap and thanks to the tape-cutting blogger who made this all possible. 

We shouldn’t forget that Mrs. Sherrod was speaking freely on the mic about race—a little too freely when you work for “the man” —even when “the man” looks like you.  You want to have a national discussion about race relations in America.  Let’s do it.  Let’s put the NACCP in the room with the Tea Party and toss in the moderates.  They will discover what wise people already know: we are all Americans with common interests who have plenty reasons to be mad.  But, blowing a gasket will not help anything…so simmer down, have some Sweet Tea and let’s get a better understanding of each other. 

Coming soon, The Sherrod Show on Fox News.  It’s fair and balanced.

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Shirley Sherrod and her husband are civic rights icons in my community.  My father, a former high school agriculture teacher and big supporter of minority farmers, admired Mrs. Sherrod’s efforts to help Black farmers save their family lands. 

After being at the hospital with my mom yesterday, I was surprised to hear the Sherrod situation on MSNBC at 6:30 a.m.  Say what?  Stop the madness.

The snippet was clearly taken out of context and is similar to statements made by any of us who are fortunate to work in and around the federal government.  When I served as a congressional staffer, I loved loved loved the opportunity to help farmers, ranchers, veterans and business owners who never imagined that a young Black guy could be pivotal to sorting their problems with the big bad Fed. 

I heard Mrs. Sherrod speak at a UDSA event this year and was so pleased that an advocate for small farmers was now part of the establishment; Daddy is smiling on the other side.

In this time of PC and hungry new media, shall we just chill for a second and understand that older people get a pass on statements because they have earned it.  The nicest person in the history of Sylvester, Georgia, was Mr. Charlie Moore.  At the local gym, Mr. Moore went out of his way to be PC when talking about impressive “Black, African American fellows” on T.V.  Mr. Moore could say Negro if he wanted because he earned it by being nice to Black people….downtown…..in retail….in the 60s. 

My mother’s nurse (who doesn’t look like us) mentioned Proverbs 17:22 and I thought it was a cool passage as we prepare for the election season. 

A cheerful heart is a good medicine.  But a broke spirit drieth up the bones.  A wicked man receiveth a bride out of the bosom, To pervert the ways of justice.  Wisdom is before the face of him that hath understanding: But the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.  A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him. 

Also to punish the righteous is not good (nor) to smite the noble for their uprightness.  He that spaerth his word hath knowledge, and he that is a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool,  when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise,  When he shutteth his lips, he is esteemed as prudent.  ……. A fool hath no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself.

Update: Mrs. Sherrod just said on CNN that she gave the same speech at Albany State Univsersity at a USDA event.  I was there and heard every word…no problem.  Are they tossing an icon under the same bus Mrs. Rosa Parks…..I better leave that alone.

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The USDA recently released new estimates on the cost of raising a child born last year and the numbers shocked me.  For a middle-income family, $221, 000 would be needed to get that child to 17 years old.  While the costs are lower in the South, low and no income people must gasp the financial magnitude of parenthood before adding to existing families or starting new ones.  Do I sound like a Chinese official who is in charged of population control or a concerned American weary of taxpayers’ dollar supporting those who drain the system?   So, single people without kids pay taxes to support of those who have them.

During the presidential campaign last year, expanded healthcare coverage was spun as a form of abortion reduction; patients with primary care providers learn about not getting pregnant and family planning.

In a cost-benefit analysis, I keep coming back to Speaker Newt Gingrich’s idea from the 1990s of giving young people $5000 for finishing high school, not getting arrested and not having a baby before a certain age.  While it sounds Orwellian, they could call it “Cash for Humper.”

I still think we should take a serious look at a 14% flat tax.  While many Democrats want to tax the wealthy, I find one standard tax rate reasonable.



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The Obama Administration just showed me something; the ability to adjust and respond to outcries.  In the South, we were disappointed when Congressman Sanford Bishop did not become Agriculture Secretary and no real southerner was appointed to the new cabinet.  


President Obama recently nominated Krysta Harden of Mitchell County, Georgia, to serve as the USDA assistant secretary for congressional relations.   Cool.


Krysta grew up in a farming family here in south Georgia and has a well-developed knowledge of the relationship between ag policy, the farm and Capitol Hill.  As chief of staff for former Georgia Congressman Charles Hatcher, she was wise in hiring me as a legislative assistant.  Cool.


The Obama White House just got a few southern cool points back and Georgia crops just got a little sun on them.

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