Growing up, my family was like a lot of Oregon families: My dad was a millwright and my mom stayed at home. At that time, a single working income could buy a three-bedroom ranch house, an annual camping trip, and a dinner out a couple times a year.
We had enough to have faith in the American Dream.
Life’s a lot tougher today for working families, and rural and small town communities are feeling it most.
Life’s going to get even tougher if the Trump administration’s recent budget proposals get through.
At a time we need creative ideas to build economic opportunity in rural America, the new budget proposes an unprecedented 26 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes the Rural Development Agency and the U.S. Forest Service, in addition to essential agricultural programs.
This is an assault on rural communities’ most basic needs. From slashing investment in small business growth and job creation, to threatening access to clean drinking water, to reducing funding to prevent and fight wildfires, the cut hurts farmers, ranchers, children, and timber communities.
The Trump budget guts Payments In Lieu of Taxes — funding for counties that have large tracts of federal lands that don’t generate property taxes — by $100 million this year alone, stripping from Oregon counties critical funding for public safety, social services, transportation and housing.
It decimates the community development block grants, cutting the $3 billion program that has been critical to revitalizing rural Oregon’s infrastructure and community services, housing, and economic development.
The budget would eliminate the entire $175 million Essential Air Service program that is vital to keep small, remote airports operating. It would dramatically defund programs to get doctors and other health care providers to rural communities. It would end grants for rural transportation projects; cut off rural entrepreneurs from loans; and push huge costs onto rural water system ratepayers.
The Trump budget even seeks a devastating $1.3 billion cut to the budget of the U.S. Coast Guard, which just last weekend rescued three Oregonians.
Millionaires and billionaires in big cities are doing great; they don’t need the government to invest in their success. Rural communities are facing unprecedented challenges, and we need to crank up investment in essential programs and infrastructure — that is, the opposite of Trump’s budget proposals.
This month I partnered with bipartisan colleagues in Congress to introduce the Timber Innovation Act, which would support Oregon’s innovative uses of wood for construction and manufacturing. I’ve helped preserve and reopen small airports and save small-town post offices, both of which are essential in today’s interconnected economy. I’ve pushed to bring bipartisan sense to our wildland firefighting. I’ve used my position as the ranking member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to fight for research that helps our farmers fight off pests and improve their yields.
There is so much to do to move our smaller communities forward. But instead, this administration’s budget is an enormous step backward.
The American Dream is one of equal opportunity for the child of a middle-class millwright and the child of a wealthy CEO. But this administration’s budget takes us even further from this most fundamental ideal, eviscerating the programs that create that opportunity and level the playing field in our rural communities, where they are needed most.
We need to move closer to the American Dream. I will work with the true champions for rural America in both parties to fight for the programs that give Oregonians the opportunity to share in the economy they help create, and ensure future generations have the chance to thrive.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008. He previously served in the Oregon House of Representatives since 1999 including as the Speaker of the House in his last term.