LUMBERTON — The county seat of Robeson County is eligible once more to apply for federal Department of Agriculture grants and loans designated for poor rural counties.
The Fiscal Year 2018 budget signed into law Friday by President Donald Trump contained language that expanded the population requirement for certain USDA economic development programs.
The language was included in the $1.3 trillion spending plan at the request of Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican whose District 9 includes all of Robeson County. During the past year, Pittenger lobbied the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development to create flexibility with the population thresholds and was able to get the eligibility change inserted into the funding bill.
“Federal assistance should go where it does the most good. Arbitrary population thresholds shouldn’t be the determining factor,” Pittenger said. “Lumberton has been hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, unfair trade deals, and unnecessary government regulation. Thank you to my colleagues for joining me in support of this resilient and hardworking community.”
Lumberton lost its eligibility for USDA grants and loans designated for persistently poor rural counties when its population exceeded the 20,000-resident threshold for county seats, said Marco Sylvester, a member of Pittenger’s legislative staff in Washington, D.C. The population threshold applies to 10 percent of the USDA grants and loans for rural counties.
The language in the funding legislation states a county seat can apply for the grants and loans if its population is within 10 percent of the 20,000-resident threshold, said Sylvester, who helped Pittenger draft the request. The 2010 U.S. census put Lumberton’s population at 21,542, within the 10 percent window of 22,000.
Lumberton can begin applying immediately for the grants and loans for persistently poor rural counties, Sylvester said. The new population rule is now law and should not become an issue when the funding legislation expires in September.
At no time did Robeson County’s other municipalities lose their eligibility for the affected loans and grants.
The funding legislation’s fate was in doubt Friday morning. At one point Trump tweeted out that he was “considering” vetoing the bill.
The president said he was “very disappointed” in the package, in part because it did not fully fund his planned wall between Mexico and the United States and did not address about 700,000 “Dreamer” immigrants who are now protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Trump praised the military spending increases in the bill and said he had “no choice but to fund our military.”
“My highest duty is to keep America safe,” he said.