The Trump administration's reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture got varying marks this week from Quad-City lawmakers.
Republicans praised creation of a new undersecretary's position for trade and foreign agriculture affairs. But the elimination of a similar position overseeing rural development was panned by Democrats.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue unveiled the changes Thursday in Cincinnati.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, called eliminating the rural development post a "gut punch to rural America."
Bustos, who is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said the programs are vital to growing rural areas. "Today's news is a gut punch for anyone in rural America who wants to see small businesses succeed on their Main Streets, new opportunities in their communities and better jobs for them and their neighbors," Bustos said.
Since 2009, the Rural Development program has helped about 112,000 small communities and saved or created 450,000 jobs, according to her office. The programs include funding opportunities for development of housing and utilities, as well as for job training and business creation. Jo-Carroll Energy, an electric cooperative in the northwest part of the state, has received funding, for example.
Asked his opinion Friday, Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, called it a slap in the face to eliminate the position whose "sole focus" is rural economic well-being. "In order for rural communities to succeed, we must have a seat at the table and removing this position takes away that voice," he said.
The USDA responded to the criticism Friday by saying rural development efforts are now gaining power and influence, and that they will fall under Perdue.
"The agencies contained within Rural Development will remain as currently constituted and be led by an Assistant to the Secretary, who will have rural prosperity as a sole focus," USDA said.
The trade post that was announced Thursday was part of the 2014 farm bill, and Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both praised Perdue for following through on its creation. The Iowa Republicans joined Perdue when he made a stop in central Iowa on Thursday. The senators say the new post will help rural communities by improving trade prospects.
USDA says the new undersecretary will work closely with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who also is the government's top trade official.
"Today, Secretary Perdue made good on his commitment, and through this move, he acknowledged how vital trade is to our farmers and ranchers, and that he is prepared to step up and fight for their interests," Ernst said. She also praised the changes the department made to rural development, saying they highlight the commitment to rural America.