November 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 6 // Forum // 6FRM2

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Extension's Federal Funding: Who Is Entitled?


Joan S. Thomson
Assistant Professor, Rural Sociology and Coordinator of Staff Development
Cooperative Extension Service
The Pennsylvania State University - University Park

Many know Cooperative Extension as a three-way partnership, jointly funded by federal, state, and local tax monies. Fewer understand either the criteria by which federal funds are allocated or the rationale for doing so.

In recent years, external groups at the national level have questioned the way federal funds are distributed to Cooperative Extension.1 Those who determine the ways Extension will be funded in the future should understand the earlier deliberations on which federal funds for Extension were appropriated. In addition, the changing socioeconomic and political environment in which Cooperative Extension functions today must be recognized.

Congressional appropriations for Cooperative Extension today are primarily through three mechanisms: formula funding, earmarked monies, and other legislation.

Formula Funding. The current formula, which hasn't changed significantly since 1962, provides that 4% of the appropriation be allocated for administration of Extension at the federal level. Identified as Smith-Lever 3(b) and 3(c) monies, the remaining 96% is apportioned as follows: 20% to the states in equal proportion, 40% to the states on the basis of rural population, and 40% to the states on the basis of farm population.

Formula funding to the states was part of the 1914 authorizing legislation. Such funds give states the latitude to develop programs within the authority of the Smith-Lever Act. This initial authorization distributed a base amount equally to each state to assure that a minimal level of support for a state Extension program was provided. The balance of the formula appropriation was distributed on the basis of the state's rural population. At the time, this factor was viewed as giving Extension a mandate to focus on the development of people in an effort to improve agriculture.2 Dollars allocated on the basis of rural population had to be matched by the states, an effort to stimulate within-state support. This concept continues to be used today.

In the mid-1930's, another criterion was added to the distribution formula. The Bankhead-Jones Act, which increased Extension support, allocated funds for the first time based on farm, rather than just on rural, population. Such funds were appropriated to enable Extension to provide assistance to programs of other federal agencies, such as the Farm Credit Administration and the Soil Conservation Service, whose primary clientele were farmers.

Earmarked Monies. Identified as Smith-Lever 3(d) monies, these funds, initiated through a 1955 amendment to the Smith-Lever Act, support specified Extension programs such as pesticide management, farm safety, urban gardening, and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. These funds have no matching requirement. Through designated -earmarked -monies, the federal government has assumed an increasingly activist role since the 1960's in communicating national priorities. Such funding, which must be used for the purpose specified, now accounts for about one-third of the federal allocation to states.

Other Legislation. In addition to the funding provisions of the Smith-Lever Act, other legislation has been passed to deal with specific issues. Current funding for both renewable resources and the D.C. Extension Service are provided through such legislation. These legislative initiatives legitimize and reinforce programs in specific areas as well as appeal to specific constituent groups.

Determining who's entitled to federal appropriations for Cooperative Extension has been-and will continue to be-a political decision. Any change in the current funding mechanisms will represent compromise-a compromise, one hopes, based on criteria relevant to Extension's mission and developed through a consensus of the involved parties.


  1. Comptroller General of the United States, Cooperative Extension Service's Mission and Federal Role Need Congressional Clarification, Report to the Congress CED-81-119 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, 1981); U.S., Congress, House, Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Department Operations, Research and Foreign Agriculture, Extension Service Oversight, Hearing, 97th Cong. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982)- National Agriculture Research and Extension Users Advisory Board, Report to the Secretary (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, July, 1982).
  2. Ralph E. Groening, Funding of Extension Programs 1914-1977 (Washington, D.C.: ES/USDA, undated), pp. 18-23.