USDA Pilot Program Launches in Nine NM Counties
Friday, May 13, 2022
New Mexico will be one of the first states to receive help from the Rural Partners Network, a new government initiative aiming to reset the way Washington, D.C., works with rural communities.
Billions of federal dollars are available to help rural communities repair and build infrastructure such as roads and bridges, clean drinking-water systems, hospitals and schools.
Xochitl Torres Small, Under Secretary for Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said field staff will provide direct assistance to help locals troubleshoot the grant application process.
"It helps connect communities to resources based on that communities' specific needs," Torres Small explained. "To ensure rural communities can access the full array of federal opportunities and resources."
The USDA field staff plans to hire locals who know the region, and assign staff in Washington to represent each region. In addition to New Mexico and its tribal nations, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi are included in the pilot program.
Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, said in offering the assistance, they have identified communities that have dealt with decades of persistent poverty.
"People, when they think of poverty in this country, I think they immediately think of inner-city poverty," Vilsack pointed out. "But the reality is that there's probably deeper and more persistent poverty in rural areas."
Vilsack said he wants to change what he calls America's "extraction economy," and instead develop a "circular economy," in which wealth is created and stays in rural areas.
"If you think about what we've done in rural America, we basically take things from the land or out of the land or below the land, and we transport them to some other place where value and opportunity is added," Vilsack observed.
The new initiative is a successor to the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity program launched by the Obama administration and also led by Vilsack.
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