Local businesses, community infrastructure, housing and more throughout rural America reaped great benefits in 2015, thanks to investments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development team.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently released a report detailing the tangible results across the country's rural areas. "Through our Rural Development agencies alone, USDA was able to support more than 170,000 projects last year, spurring job creation and improving the quality of life for millions of rural Americans," Vilsack said.
These investments have helped people secure affordable housing and become first-time homeowners. They have connected America’s remote towns with medical providers and business customers via telecommunications. They've improved critical water and other community facilities, lowered utility costs for residents and businesses through energy efficiency, bolstered local and regional food systems, and created and expanded small businesses.
"All of this has helped to strengthen local economies for the farmers, families and businesses who call rural America home, and for all Americans who rely on the food, fuel and goods these communities produce," Vilsack said.
USDA Rural Development’s 2015 Progress Report provides an overview of activities in 2015 that resulted in nearly $30 billion in investments in rural America. The report includes success stories from every state illustrating the many ways USDA helps finance infrastructure improvements and boosts economic development in rural areas. The Progress Report also highlights the success of the Obama Administration’s and Secretary Vilsack’s place-based initiatives, Promise Zones and StrikeForce, to address rural areas facing significant economic challenges. These initiatives and the emphasis on Community Economic Development (CED) are the cornerstones of USDA’s efforts to combat rural poverty and deliver assistance to rural places most in need of the capacity and funding to jump-start or sustain economic development.
Nearly $2.5 million in water loan and grant assistance from USDA Rural Development is bringing clean, safe drinking water to the Bad River Tribe. In this photo, USDA Rural Development officials joined Bad River tribal leaders on Earth Day 2015 to celebrate improved water service on the reservation.
Partnerships with private lenders, non-profit organizations and community-based groups are key to USDA’s success in rural areas. For example, USDA-Rural Development Alaska provided the Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative with a $1.4 million Community Connect Grant to build a fiber optic broadband network for the community of Point Hope. In the future, Point Hope’s network will be linked to an international project currently underway to provide broadband across north Alaska through undersea cable connections.
Through Rural Development, USDA helped nearly 150,000 families buy, refinance or repair their homes last year. Eleven thousand people lived in affordable apartments as a result of USDA programs to build or provide subsidies for rental housing.
USDA Rural Development programs also provide for a wide range of community needs. More than 21 million rural residents benefitted from USDA support for essential community facilities in 2015. The agency invested $1.8 billion in services such as schools, hospitals, day care centers, first-responder vehicles and equipment and other needs.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) in Bethel, Alaska has been awarded a $165 million loan from USDA-Rural Development (USDA-RD). The funding comes through USDA-RD's Community Facility Direct Loan program. Funds will be used to provide permanent financing for a new 129,600 square foot primary care clinic and 110,000 square foot hospital remodel in Bethel. YKHC is the only full service health provider in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, an area almost the size of Oregon. They are not connected to the standard road system, so transportation to the area is either by boat or airplane, making it a truly rural area,” said Greg Stuckey, USDA-RD Alaska’s Director, Community Facilities.
In 2013, USDA committed to investing up to $50 million in Community Facilities funds nationally by the end of 2016 to develop or improve mental health facilities and services in rural areas. By November 2015, USDA had more than quadrupled that goal in just two years, funding more than $213 million in 80 projects in 34 states.
USDA Rural Development helped more than 12,500 rural businesses through $1.5 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants last year.
The report also sums up Rural Development investments since 2009. Under President Obama, USDA Rural Development has invested $11 billion in more than 103,000 rural businesses to start or expand their operations; helped more than 1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of new and improved electric transmission and distribution lines; supported 254 broadband projects completed with funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, bringing high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents, 17,500 businesses and 1,900 community facilities; and partnered in many other efforts to improve the economic conditions and quality of life for rural Americans.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.