Rural Economy Subject of Senate Hearing
(AUSTIN) - The Texas Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations is taking a close look at rural Texas, examining needs in regard to health care, infrastructure, economic development and housing. The committee will be looking at these issues as part of the interim charges assigned to the committee. Charge #3 states that the committee shall "Study the unique challenges and opportunities in rural areas from an economic development standpoint. Study the future and unmet needs of rural communities, residents and businesses and examine the quality of infrastructure, housing, health care, and community involvement. Make recommendations for promoting investment in growth industries in rural areas." I am proud to serve on this committee, and recently attended a hearing in Austin that examined all these issues.
Bryan Daniel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was the first witness. He told the committee that while USDA is one of the few federal organizations that can affect every aspect of rural development, local leadership is critical to ensuring that assistance from their programs gets to where it's needed. During the past two years, he said that USDA has made more than $850 million dollars in loans and grants for rural development in Texas. In addition to crop loans, USDA administers home improvement loans and many other types of assistance that encourage rural development.
Martin Hubert from the Texas Department of Agriculture explained that agency's rural development efforts. Those include various rural economic development efforts to revitalize historical rural buildings, encourage food and fiber processing in rural areas and encouraging rural tourism as well as TDA's support of Texas agriculture.
John Henneberger from the Texas Low Income Housing Service and Edwina Carrington of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs described the challenges that Texans who are in need of affordable housing face and a preview of an upcoming report on housing conditions for Texas farm workers in the Panhandle. Henneberger described conditions that, while inspected by the Texas Department of Health, were clearly substandard. Henneberger said that when asked, the health department said the poor inspection record was due to state budget cutbacks. He also said that $15 million dollars in federal money for housing assistance to the homeless had been lost simply because the state had not applied for the funds.
Connie Berry from the Texas Department of Health described how that agency is working to increase health care options for Texans in rural areas. Patti Patterson of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Mary Wainwright of the East Texas Area Health Education Center testified about the difficulties involved in convincing recent graduates of medical schools to locate and continue practicing in rural areas. Patterson described the greatest challenge to health care by saying: "rural Texas is older , poorer, and less likely to be insured than the rest of Texas. It is also more likely to be obese." One of the most telling statistics is that more than 60 Texas counties have no hospital.
Jim Ray from the Texas Association of Regional Councils followed, saying they approach rural development on a regional basis, bringing local governments together so they can accomplish more together than they can alone. Donna Chatahm, from the Association of Rural Communities in Texas said the lack of capital is a problem in that rural counties have a "need to attract and entrepreneurs and maintain the retail businesses they have".
Amadeo Saenz of the Texas Department of Transportation testified that his agency is trying to create a "seamless transportation network" that can connect urban to rural Texas. Kevin Ward from the Texas Water Development Board described the programs his agency administers to bring water and wastewater systems to the impoverished areas of the state. He also said that established systems are having difficulties just maintaining their treatment plants. Also testifying was Sam Tessen, Executive Director of the Office of Rural Community Affairs.
This is one of four charges the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations will be examining during this interim. Other charges are:
Charge 1 - Study and make recommendations on the need for statutory language relating to fees charged for copies of documents filed electronically or in paper format with a county clerk. Examine all state and local policies relating to document fees and analyze the impact of any recommended changes on local and state revenues.
Charge 2 - As required by SB 264, 78th Legislature, jointly study with the House Urban Affairs Committee the effect of subdividing uniform state service regions into urban/exurban areas and rural areas and upon the provision of state and federal financial assistance to meet housing needs of rural areas.
Charge 4 - Study and make recommendations relating to development of the Texas wine producing industry. Assess the impact of state and federal laws on the shipment and delivery of wine and make recommendations for increasing the economic impact of the wine producing industry in Texas.
The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs is chaired by Senator Frank Madla. My fellow members of the committee include Senators Kim Brimer, vice-chair, Mario Gallegos and Jeff Wentworth.
Please contact my office to discuss this, or any other issue.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process, contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0556 or mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.Senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: firstname.lastname@example.org.