State Rural Development Policy: The Role of the Community Development Block Grant Program

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ABSTRACT.

A partnership of the federal government and the states implement rural community development policy today, yet researchers rarely examine the nature and efficacy of this extensive intergovernmental collaboration. The authors collected data on Community Development Block Grant awards made by one state to small and rural communities for a variety of development projects over a period of more than ten years, and using a modified rural classification system detected patterns and trends in allocation. This study seeks to determine if a federally funded program assists states address the development needs of a diverse mix of rural communities. Do federal block grant programs help states meet rural community development policy objectives? This information should be helpful to local, state, and national government policy makers as they ponder proposals to reorganize dramatically the funding and implementation of community and economic development resources. Perhaps most importantly, this study will also help policy makers understand the complexity of the federal-state-local partnership for rural community development.

INTRODUCTION

The federal government and the various states partner in the delivery of rural community development policy. This intergovernmental collaboration consists of a complex network of federal and state policies and programs designed to meet the development needs of rural America. In reality there are many dimensions to rural development policy. Some policies may address the economic needs of rural areas, like production agriculture, while other policies target rural communities. Despite the scope and size of rural development policy, scholars rarely research this important policy domain. This research examines a critical aspect of rural development policy.

RURAL COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY

Defined broadly, rural development policy includes the collection of public programs to enhance, improve, and revitalize non-urban and non-metropolitan areas. Rural community development policy, then, focuses on the identification, implementation, and evaluation of public efforts to address issues relating to the economic and social development, viability, and the sustainability of rural communities. Issues affecting rural communities include aging housing stock, the loss of jobs and employment opportunities, lack of new business development, a crumbling and outdated public infrastructure, loss of community capital, and population outmigration, just to name a few.

Since the 1980s only a handful of researchers have systematically examined the characteristics of rural community development policy. Most notably, Gary P. Green, Jan L. Flora, Cornelia Flora and Frederick E. Schmidt (1990) inventoried the local development strategies of rural communities; Dewitt John, Sandra S. Batie, and Kim Norris (1988) conducted a comprehensive examination of factors that influence the development of rural communities; Larry F. Leistritz and Rita R. Hamm (1994) compiled a bibliography of sources on rural community development programs and research; David W. Sears, William Sears, and J. Norman Reid (1995) edited a basic text on strategies and the development process for rural communities; Ron Shaffer and Glen Pulver (1987) commissioned researchers to examine various aspects of rural revitalization for communities; and Norman Walzer (1991) edited a collection of readings on the topic of rural community economic development. While the research noted above provides fine descriptions of many of the elements important to rural community development, and identifies and critiques local development strategies, there appears to be a lack of a critical analysis of specific programs and policies. Many key policy questions remain. How do states and the federal government partner to finance rural community development policy? What types of development projects are funded? Are the programs addressing the needs of rural communities? …