Pittenger: Change The Rules. Here’s Some Cash. (Remember to vote.)

Conservatives have long had heartburn over the very existence of government departments of agriculture.  Far too often, those institutions have been little more than farm community vote-buying apparatuses.

In recent years, the USDA has moved away from strictly funding farm-based projects to backing commercial development in rural areas.  Charlotte’s Robert Pittenger had a scary close reelection fight in 2016.  He’s clearly pulling out all the stops to try and avoid another one in 2018:

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger is optimistic that Robeson County will be able to pay for renovations to the former BB&T building on Chestnut Street with a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan.

Pittenger, whose 9th District includes all of Robeson County, told The Robesonian recently that a change in the wording of regulations governing eligibility to receive USDA grants and loans was approved by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture. Studies indicate that it will cost about $12 million to renovate the landmark in downtown Lumberton.

“This will allow Robeson County to receive a USDA grant to be used for work on the BB&T building,” Pittenger said. “If approved when the 2018 budget is voted on the money could become available by this fall.”

Pittenger testified before the subcommittee in March in support of a wording change that would make the county eligible to fund the BB&T project with USDA funds. Under current law, Lumberton’s population exceeds the 20,000 population threshold for grant eligibility. The new wording increases the population threshold.

The bill’s new language “should help Robeson County and Lumberton tremendously by allowing buildings the county owns in the city of Lumberton to potentially qualify for federal grants and loans,” said County Attorney Patrick Pait.

Under current law the county cannot qualify for assistance under the community facilities program of USDA Rural Development because the Lumberton’s population exceeds 20,000, Pait said. The new language will allow counties across the country that are considered “persistent poverty counties” to increase the population threshold by 10 percent and potentially qualify for funds. […]