Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack touted the team effort that has brought real change to rural America as part of the White House Rural Council. He said the effort of not just the federal government but state and local investments as well as private and nonprofit partners helped “reverse the trends” in rural America.
Vilsack noted the significant gains made across rural America: Rural household income climbed 3.4% in 2015, and overall poverty and food insecurity fell dramatically; rural populations have begun to rebound, and non-metro areas have added more than 250,000 jobs since 2014, while the share of rural Americans without health insurance is now at an all-time low.
Established by President Barack Obama in 2011, the White House Rural Council coordinates the Administration’s efforts in rural America by streamlining and improving the effectiveness of federal programs, engaging stakeholders on priority issues and coordinating private-sector partnerships to create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life.
Established through an executive order, Vilsack said he is hopeful that the next Administration will see the “wisdom of continuing the program” to reduce barriers to federal resources, strengthen the leveraging of those resources and offer a focused effort and resources in challenged areas. The current focus has been on child poverty and economic opportunities, and Vilsack said he hopes the new Administration decides to carry that torch or even find a new focus area of commitment to the needs of rural America.
Building on the work of the White House Rural Council, the Administration and non-federal organizations on Tuesday announced new investments and highlighted programs to support continued progress in rural America, including:
· $3 billion invested in rural infrastructure projects. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a public/private partnership with Capitol Peak Asset Management and CoBank, a national cooperative bank and member of the Farm Credit System. Since 2014, more than $3 billion in private-sector funding has been lent to finance more than 400 projects in the power, water, communication and community facilities industries.
· $7.7 million in new grants to bring broadband to unserved communities. USDA’s Community Connect program provides funding for broadband deployment into unserved areas. Since 2009, USDA Rural Development broadband programs have helped bring high-speed internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.
· $24.4 million to fund 80 new efforts to support rural businesses. Since 2009, USDA has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses, helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes, funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities and financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines.
New investments announced Tuesday included:
o $10.9 million invested in 15 new Rural Economic Development (RED) loan and grant projects. Under the REDLoan and REDGrant programs, USDA provides zero-interest loans and grants to local utilities, and they, in turn, pass the savings through to local businesses (ultimate recipients) for projects that will create and retain employment in rural areas.
o $9.1 million invested in 15 new Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) projects. Under IRP, loans are provided to local organizations (intermediaries) for the establishment of revolving loan funds. These revolving loan funds are used to assist with financing business and economic development activity to create or retain jobs in disadvantaged and remote communities. Intermediaries are encouraged to work in concert with partners that can provide complimentary resources.
o $1.2 million invested in four new Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) projects. RMAP provides loans and grants to micro-enterprise development organizations (MDOs) to help micro-entrepreneurs – very small businesses with 10 or fewer employees – access capital to start or grow businesses. MDOs use the funds to provide training and technical assistance to small businesses or to establish revolving loan funds that provide micro-loans, typically for $5,000-50,000, to rural micro-entrepreneurs.
o $3.2 million invested in 46 new Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) projects. RBDG is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas that have fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in gross revenues.
· Grants to increase rural veterans’ access to health care. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Rural Health is awarding $215 million in grants for fiscal 2017 to 138 VA Medical Centers to prioritize rural programs to increase access to health care services affecting approximately 570,000 rural veterans and approximately 800 rural providers and health care staff. These grants will support the implementation of proven models of care delivery in rural serving clinics. Programs enhancing primary care, mental health care, specialty care and enabling services will be available in VA clinic locations where these were not previously available.
· Investing in volunteer service to address the opioid crisis in rural America. The Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) will provide up to 19 AmeriCorps program development grants to states and their governors’ service commissions to address the growing opioid crisis in America, including in rural areas of affected states. AmeriCorps VISTA just announced that one of its fiscal 2017 priorities for applications is to have members promote opioid addiction recovery. Last year, CNCS invested $220 million in programs that help rural communities address their biggest challenges. More than 190,000 AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps members served their rural neighbors in every state through tasks like tutoring children, building or repairing homes and providing nutritious meals.
· Rural IMPACT remonstration pilot program. The Rural Integration Models for Parents & Children to Thrive (Rural IMPACT) Demonstration Project helps communities adopt a two-generation approach to addressing the needs of both vulnerable children and their parents, with the goal of increasing parents' employment and education and improving the health and well-being of their children and families. The project — led by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, in collaboration with USDA, the U.S. Department of Labor, CNCS, the Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, Annie E. Casey Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other philanthropic partners — selected 10 local and tribal communities to receive interagency technical assistance and capacity-building resources to reduce child poverty. Today, USDA and CNCS announced that AmeriCorps VISTA members will be placed in all 10 Rural IMPACT communities for a second year.
· Economic development planning assistance for rural communities. Several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, USDA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, HHS, U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Economic Development Administration, Appalachian Regional Commission and Delta Regional Authority, is launching Rural Advantage, offering planning assistance to help up to 30 rural communities grow their economies and revitalize downtown neighborhoods. Rural Advantage joins a suite of federal economic development planning assistance programs for rural communities that include:
o Local Foods, Local Places, which helps communities leverage local food enterprise to diversify their economy and renew their downtowns;
o Cool & Connected, which helps communities use broadband service to create walkable, connected, economically successful neighborhoods, and
o Healthy Places for Healthy People, a new program that will help communities use centrally located health care facilities to promote community development and active living.
Communities interested in assistance are invited to apply by Nov. 6.
· Health information technology investments. The HHS Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) is investing approximately $36 million in rurally located health centers to support strategic investments in health information technology (IT). The investments will help health centers enhance their health IT and better prepare providers and staff to use health IT and data.
· Investments to address chronic diseases. HRSA is investing $2 million to support rural primary care providers like critical access hospitals and rural health clinics to plan and implement quality improvement activities, such as medication management, to address chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
· Community coaches to help rural leaders tackle child poverty. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin are providing community coaches to 10 innovative communities participating in the Rural Impact County Challenge, an initiative led by the White House Rural Council and the National Association of Counties to address rural child poverty. Coaches will work directly with the selected communities’ leaders and multisector teams to address factors that contribute to child poverty.
· Investments in rural teacher preparation programs. As part of its Teacher Quality Partnership Grants Program, the U.S. Department of Education is investing nearly $15 million over five years to develop teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions that partner with high-need schools to help train new and experienced teachers.
· Release of “Rural Strategies that Work.” The White House Rural Council is releasing a memorandum titled "Rural Strategies that Work," which presents strategies for federal work in rural America that have resulted in improved outcomes over the course of the Obama Administration. Authored by USDA's Vilsack, Office of Management & Budget director Shaun Donovan, Domestic Policy director Cecilia Muñoz and National Economic Council director Jeff Zients, the memorandum presents policies and administrative actions that increase rural communities’ ability to access and leverage local and federal resources.