Funding Set for Electric Loan Program

House, Senate committees back $5.5 billion request, in line with electric cooperative priorities

Congressional appropriators have set a $5.5 billion loan level for fiscal 2018 to help co-ops build and maintain their infrastructure. (Photo By: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Support for the Rural Utilities Service program that electric cooperatives use to deliver reliable power to their members would remain steady at $5.5 billion under bills passed by congressional appropriations committees.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a broad agriculture spending bill for fiscal 2018 that includes money for the RUS Electric Loan program and other co-op priorities.

Earlier in July, the House Appropriations Committee also set a $5.5 billion spending level for the loan program as part of its agriculture appropriations bill.

The $5.5 billion funding level matches President Trump’s budget proposal and is the amount sought by electric cooperatives. It’s the same total as in fiscal 2016 and 2017.

Unlike past agriculture appropriations measures, the fiscal 2018 bills are not accompanied by language that restricts the use of RUS loans to certain types of projects.

Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president, government relations, said co-op leaders did an excellent job of securing commitments for the RUS program from their elected officials at the recent Legislative Conference.

Support letters for the RUS program that circulated on Capitol Hill drew a record number of signatures from members of Congress, he said.

“We’re pleased that many of these two committees’ actions reflect that understanding and we’ll continue make the case as the appropriations process moves on,” he said.

The appropriations bills also each include $750 million for the Guaranteed Underwriter program, which allows qualified private lenders to provide guaranteed financing to electric cooperatives. The administration’s budget proposal did not include funding for the program.

The Trump budget proposed scrapping support for the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program (REDLG), which enables co-ops to invest in their communities and create jobs. However, the Senate bill set aside $42 million for REDLG, about $9 million more than the House bill.

No timetable has been established for floor action on the bills in either chamber.

Steven Johnson is a staff writer at NRECA.