Washington, DC - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $7.6 million in grants to support projects that will grow opportunity in rural America through job training and economic development. The grants will support communities in at least 24 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, with several projects spanning communities in multiple states. This investment marks the latest effort at USDA to support the rural economy, which the latest Census data shows is rebounding.
"Data show that rural America is beginning to make a strong comeback after the worst recession in history, with rural unemployment currently at the lowest level since 2007, and rural incomes growing by 3.4 percent last year. This growth has been achieved in large part thanks to the work of cooperative and community-based economic development organizations like the ones receiving grants today, who are able to implement federal programs where they are most needed," Vilsack said. "These awards will help bolster local and regional food systems, tap into the tourism potential that proximity to America's beautiful natural resources provides, and help individuals learn new job skills. All of these efforts are part of USDA's strategy for a strong rural economy and will help to sustain the recovery that we have begun to see in our smallest towns."
USDA is awarding the funding through the Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant (SDGG) and Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) programs.
RCDI grants help community-based development organizations, federally-recognized Indian tribes and other groups promote economic development in low-income, rural communities. The grants are awarded to public or nonprofit entities that are skilled in economic development and rural job creation. Recipients are required to provide matching funds for this program.
Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. is receiving a $210,335 RCDI grant to provide technical assistance for economic development strategies in 12 communities in rural Missouri. The assistance will focus on business retention, microenterprise recruitment and community sustainability.
The Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant program provides technical assistance to cooperatives and other organizations that help socially-disadvantaged groups in rural areas. Examples of technical assistance include leadership training, conducting feasibility studies and developing business and strategic plans.
One of today's awardees, the Tri-County Agricultural Cooperative in Charleston, Miss., is receiving a $175,000 SDGG grant to help 200 African-American farmers diversify their farms, improve their business plans and adopt improved production and management strategies.
The Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant program is already making substantial improvements in the lives of farmers. In 2015, the Latino Economic Development Center received a $175,000 grant to help Hmong farmers in Minnesota implement more efficient production methods. While the Hmong farmers had traditionally sold their products at local farmers' markets, they were unable to access additional markets and receive a premium price for their products. The Center's technical assistance is helping the farmers to secure higher-paying customers and is creating a source of income outside of the relatively brief Minnesota farmers' market season.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development (@USDARD ) has invested nearly $13 billion to start or expand nearly 112,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 9,200 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. USDA also has invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents.