Rural Development:

Federal Programs That Focus on Rural America and Its Economic Development

RCED-89-56BR: Published: Jan 19, 1989. Publicly Released: Feb 21, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed descriptive information and financial data on federal programs to: (1) attempt to define rural America and rural development; and (2) determine the rural share of federal funding.

GAO defined rural areas as counties with urban populations of less than 20,000 and rural-development-type programs as those pursuing economic development purposes or having a rural focus. GAO found that: (1) 2,097 of the 3,096 U.S. counties, with 16 percent of the U.S. population, were rural; (2) about 17 percent of federal domestic funding went directly to rural counties; (3) Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs provided the highest percentage of program funds going directly to rural counties, while housing and energy programs provided the lowest; (4) 88 programs were rural-development-type programs and provided total funding of about $29 billion in fiscal year 1987; (5) 48 of the 88 programs provided about $17 billion directly to rural counties; and (6) rural development programs covered economic development, agricultural assistance, infrastructure, and human resources activities. GAO believes that: (1) agencies could restructure and supplement existing programs to achieve a rural development focus, if desired; and (2) USDA had the broadest experience for implementing a rural development policy through the proposed Rural Development Administration, since it administered the greatest number of rural-development-type programs.

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