In action Friday, the full Senate confirmed former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small to be the USDA undersecretary for rural development. The position was never filled during the Trump administration due to a re-shifting of undersecretary roles to allow for the fulfillment of a trade undersecretary at USDA.
As the daughter of migrant farm workers and a native of rural New Mexico, Torres Small represents the “heart and soul of rural communities,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in announcing her nomination in June.
Torres Small began her work in southern New Mexico, serving as a field organizer in colonias, and continued her work in rural New Mexico as a field representative for former Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., where she collaborated with local leaders and elected officials. She went on to the University of New Mexico School of Law and in 2018 became the first woman and first person of color to represent New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, the largest district that isn’t its own state.
“As undersecretary for rural development, Xochitl Torres Small will build on her legacy as a champion for small towns and rural communities – much like the one she grew up in in New Mexico,” says Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “She will give a voice to 60 million rural Americans at the highest levels at USDA. I look forward to working with her to address critical rural needs including high speed internet, infrastructure and good paying jobs.”
“While our committee handles a diverse range of issues, everything we do boils down to improving the livelihoods and future for those who call rural America home. There are many pressing challenges facing our rural communities that Congress and USDA must work together to address. I congratulate incoming Under Secretary Torres Small and stand ready to work with her to expand access to affordable high-speed broadband, ensure continued access to reliable energy production, improve water infrastructure and create new economic opportunities in rural America,” says Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman, R-Ark.
The committee held a hearing on the nomination of Torres Small on July 29, 2021 at the same time as Farm Production and Conservation undersecretary nominee Robert Bonnie. Bonnie has not yet been approved by the full Senate.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., says in her time as a member of the House Agriculture Committee, “it was clear that she has a passion for rural communities and the programs under her mission area are vital to the quality of life and job opportunities in rural areas, from rural utility programs, including rural broadband, to the business development programs, bioenergy and energy efficiency incentives.”
Scott adds, “I’m confident that she will be an effective leader for Rural Development, and I am eager to have her before the Agriculture Committee to provide updates on the work of USDA."
Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., says in his time serving alongside of her on the House Agriculture Committee he knows she will be a “fierce defender of our rural communities."
Delgado says as the chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit, “I look forward to working with Undersecretary Torres-Small to deliver broadband, support our small businesses, and improve energy efficiency. New York's 19th Congressional District and rural communities across the United States deserve decisive action and investments from the USDA.”