By Eric Anderson
The statements and opinions discussed within this blog are not necessarily shared by other blog contributors within “Drake in D.C.” or by Drake University.
Today we had the fortuity to meet with Secretary Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; I will preface this post by saying that having the opportunity to sit across a table with someone who is in the presidential Cabinet was an amazing opportunity, and I thank the secretary and his staff for being so accommodating with a group of college students. Secretary Vilsack is extraordinarily kind and knowledgeable on all happenings within the department. However, I was skeptical at how genuine or truthful all of his statements were – which led me to do a little digging into what he said and confirmed my suspicions that the whole narrative was not being represented.
One of the biggest discussion topics within this conference and the general political atmosphere today is the federal budget and finding solutions to manage our now $17 trillion debt. When talking to staffers of Vilsack they almost immediately brought up what they have been doing to reduce spending, personally I was not surprised by this because of the USDA’s stigma of being wasteful. While the Department has made progressive steps in trying to lower spending, proven by finding a way to cut out $1 billion from its budget recently, there are still some massive spending problems that should be addressed and corrected.
Secretary Vilsack was very proud of the beneficial impact of the USDA’s home loan program, which was initially created to assist low and moderate income households in rural areas gain a higher standard of living. This loan program ensures that there are no down-payments on loans and is required to service all those who wish to borrow if they meet the eligibility standards. Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s because it is. Many people are losing their homes to foreclosure in this economic recession and the individuals who have borrowed from the USDA were not shielded from the possibility of losing their homes. In 2011, there were almost 19,000 foreclosures resulting in the loss of $295 million, 2012 saw a loss of $495 million, and the subsequent years have not deviated from the pattern.
On the same topic of the USDA’s home loan program, there are some serious loopholes that need to be addressed. The program intended to help individuals who were of low to moderate income afford housing in rural areas has doled out individual loan guarantees of $500,000 or more for 100 families or individuals wishing to buy land on some of the most scenic parts of Maui and Kuaui (source). I can understand the justification for assisting in reasonably priced housing, but this sort of spending is completely wasteful.
The USDA has made more mistakes than giving out unconditional and somewhat unregulated loans, most prominently their adamant stand on pushing ethanol-mixed gasoline. $200 million has been spent on the installation of “blended” pumps across America and hundreds of millions more has been spent subsidizing corn for the use of ethanol. While the idea behind having a greener fuel source was good, there are two main fallacies with the USDA’s backing of ethanol. First, from a conservation standpoint, the incentive for farmers to grow corn has pushed them to plow up land that would have remained woodland – habitats for many animals who have lost their homes and has in turn, had a horrible impact on their populations. Secondly, the ethanol-gasoline blend, while being a greener fuel than 100% gasoline, is extremely corrosive to car engines and can become very costly to repair.
Politics on both sides of the aisle is comprised from a series of half-truths. It’s up to you as an engaged citizen to research what your government is telling you to ensure its legitimacy. I would like to clarify that this is not a post that should be taken as an affront to Secretary Vilsack or his department – rather an instance a politician not providing the whole story when delivering their opinions. Again, this post does not represent the opinions of the other bloggers within “Drake in D.C.” or by Drake University.