Follow-Up on October 21st Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Rural Development in 21st Century America

CARH’S BROADCAST E-MAIL – Legislative Update

October 22, 2015

On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies held a two-hour hearing to review “Rural Development in 21st Century America.” (Click here to view the webcast of the full hearing.) The Section 521 Rental Assistance (RA) program was a major agenda item. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee, asked Tony Chrisman, a CARH member and Vice President and Owner of Chrisman Development in Enterprise, Oregon, to testify.

The hearing proceeded in two panels:


The Honorable Lisa Mensah
Under Secretary for Rural Development
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Mr. Tony Hernandez
Rural Housing Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Mr. Samuel Rikkers
Acting Administrator
Rural Business-Cooperative Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Mr. Brandon McBride
Rural Utilities Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Panel II

Mr. Bill Simpson
Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs
National Rural Water Association
Washington, DC

Mr. Stuart Lowry
President and Chief Executive Officer
Sunflower Electric Power Association
Hays, KS

Mr. Brian Boisvert
Chief Executive Officer and General Manager
Wilson Communications
Wilson, KS

Mr. Tony Chrisman
Vice President and Owner
Chrisman Development Inc.
Enterprise, OR

The USDA representatives failed to raise Section 521 RA or rural rental housing in their initial remarks. However, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Chair of the Subcommittee, and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, repeatedly raised the issue of Section 521 RA shortage. Chairman Moran noted that RA has risen substantially yet RD still does not seem to have a grasp of what funding is needed. He noted that the Committee in its report accompanying the Senate’s version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 appropriations bill (S.1800 and Senate Report 114-82), included  language critical of the Agency’s ability to accurately forecast needs. The Chairman asked for the amount of RA needed for FY 2016. Unfortunately, RD Under Secretary Lisa Mensah did not answer the question, stating that she did not have the number at the time of the hearing. Senator Merkley noted that his office and RD had conferred closely and that there was a $101.5 million shortfall for FY2015 and a $120 million shortfall for FY2016.

Unfortunately, there was one major surprise for the Subcommittee. The Under Secretary and Administrator Hernandez testified that they were not able to payback owners for missed RA payments in FY 2015. Chairman Moran and Senator Merkley repeatedly expressed great surprise at this because, as they stated, it was the Senate’s expressed instruction to “backfill” payments and pay these owners for the payments that RD missed. The recently passed Continuing Resolution (CR) contained language to pay all RA obligations that had occurred in FY 2015. The Chairman and Ranking Member repeatedly told officials that the inserted language was based on the language the Agency provided to them, and that the language was crafted in a bipartisan way to backfill payments to owners. It was unacceptable that only at the Subcommittee hearing, for the first time, they were hearing there was an issue.

Mr. Cristman provided excellent testimony, clearly explaining the major impact this RA non-payment is having, and how RD failed to provide any notice to him, except on one out of his many properties affected. Senator Merkley followed up, asking about how this will affect tenants, how the tenant portion of the RD approved rent will increase, and how most of the affected residents will be unable to support this burden.

Senator Merkley noted that RD’s handling was 100 percent unacceptable to owners and certainly unacceptable to tenants. Both Chairman Moran and Senator Merkley stated that there would be follow up by the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee clearly stated that they are going to push very, very hard to get those back payments and avoid a further shortage this coming year.

It is more important than ever that you make contact with your members of Congress! There is focus on Capitol Hill to build and adequately fund RA. While, in the short-term the funding crisis has lessened, after the CR expires on December 11th, residents could again be faced with having to pay in rent what the government had paid for them in RA. Therefore involvement by residents in this issue is also warranted. The more personal the contact the more impact it will have on Congress.

Click here to contact your Senators.

Click here to contact your Representatives.

Please keep the national CARH office appraised of any meetings with members of Congress and results of those meetings. If you have any questions or need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact CARH at 703-837-9001 or


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