Mississippi News

Hyde-Smith urges stronger rural development programs in 2023 Farm Bill

Senator addresses at-risk rural hospitals in build up to writing Ag production law

At a hearing in the building up to writing the nation’s agriculture production law, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) Tuesday used the dire outlook of rural hospitals in Mississippi to show why the 2023 Farm Bill should strengthen federal rural development programs to help rural health care facilities stay afloat.

Hyde-Smith serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee that conducted a hearing titled, “Farm Bill 2023: Rural Development and Energy Programs” on Tuesday.  It was the latest in a series of hearings leading up to the development of a new five-year farm bill to authorize U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agricultural, rural development, and nutrition programs.

“Thousands of constituents of mine from Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Greenville, Mississippi, and other rural hospitals throughout the state are living with the fear of uncertainty of their hospital closing.  It is a reality,” Hyde-Smith said.

“Six months from now, if their husband has a heart attack, or their wife goes into labor, or if there’s some type of medical emergency, they’re trying to decide if they’re going to be able to drive five minutes to their local hospital or 100 miles to Memphis or Jackson, Mississippi,” she explained.

Hyde-Smith identified a “Five/Five Review” requirement as an impediment for at-risk hospitals accessing USDA Rural Development Direct and Guaranteed Loans.  The Five/Five review handicaps applicants that have existed less than five years or that haven’t operated on a financially successful basis for the past five years.

“I think we can all agree that there needs to be a level of confidence that loans made will be repaid.  But that said, USDA is often referred to as the lender of last resort.  Hospitals with impeccable balance sheets don’t need our financing; and if they do need something, they get it somewhere else.  They don’t get it from USDA,” Hyde-Smith said.  

“The bottom line is there are rural hospitals in Mississippi and across the country that need financing to remain operational, but they just can’t get it,” the Senator said.  “USDA or Congress alone cannot eliminate all of the health care challenges facing rural America, but I really think that we can do better.”

Xochitl Torres-Small, Under Secretary for Rural Development, acknowledged the problem and cited the closure of 135 rural hospitals with another 450 at risk of closing.  She also committed to working with Hyde-Smith and the committee to address the problem in the 2023 Farm Bill.

“I think you’re absolutely right.  We have got to walk that cautious line of making sure we’re making wise investments but also being there for communities when they need it,” Torres-Small said.

At the hearing, Hyde-Smith also introduced Kenneth F. Herring, general manager of the Adams County Water Association, Inc. in Washington, Miss., whose testimony focused on changes to make USDA funding programs better at ensuring affordable and sustainable water and wastewater services in rural populations, especially economically-disadvantaged communities.

Hyde-Smith’s comments can be seen here: