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Release No. 0051.16
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Office of Communications (202)720-4623

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Fact Sheet: USDA Investments in Rural Opportunity

Since 2009, USDA's partnership with America's rural communities has supported the emergence of a more vibrant, diverse rural economy led by makers, creators and innovators. Under the leadership of President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA has made significant and transformative investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure that have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening our nation's economy, small towns and rural communities.

Supporting Growing Businesses and Community Development

To support America's rural communities, USDA's Rural Development (RD) has:

  • Helped 102,882 rural businesses grow through grant and loan support, creating or saving 449,302 jobs.
  • Helped more than 1.1 million rural families buy—many for the first time—repair or refinance a home.
  • Provided funding for 3,450 multifamily housing developments.
  • Invested in more than 7,540 critical community facilities projects, including 137 public schools, 406 libraries, 928 health care facilities, and 3,198 public safety facilities.
  • Leveraged $4.12 billion in third party funds through public-private partnerships to build or revitalize 80,412 units of rental housing in rural communities.

Investing in Critical Infrastructure

  • Improved the availability of quality health care and education in rural America by investing in more than 8,283 educational and health care facilities through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program.
  • USDA investments through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) have brought new and improved high-speed internet service to six million Americans who live and work in rural areas.
  • ARRA investments have built on rural broadband service expansion which has increased access to state-of-the-art health care, educational and cultural resources, and provided rural businesses the connectivity needed to compete in the global economy.
  • Improved and modernized rural electric infrastructure serving over 5.5 million rural residents and businesses and offering more than 180,000 miles of electric line.
  • Since 2009, USDA has helped provide improved water and wastewater services to nearly 18 million rural residents by investing $12.3 billion in 5,174 projects nationwide.

Innovation and America's Bioeconomy

Recognizing a spark was needed to transform rural America from a primarily agri-based economy to one that makes, creates and innovates, USDA focused its efforts on taking advantage of the emerging bioeconomy, including biomanufacturing and advanced biofuels.

  • Since 2009, RD has supported over 15,000 renewable energy projects to help producers and rural businesses save energy and increase their profitability and increase the production of renewable fuels.
  • The Department has helped thousands of rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by installing renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions, which will generate and save more than 9.4 billion kWh, enough energy to power 820,000 American homes annually.
  • Under expanded authority provided by the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA continues to work to expand the number of commercial biorefineries in operation that produce advanced biofuels from non-food sources through the Biorefinery Assistance Program.
  • This focus on renewable energy has resulted in support for the construction of 6 advanced biofuels production facilities, over 2,200 wind and solar renewable electricity generation facilities, and 93 anaerobic digesters to help farm operations capture methane to produce electricity.
  • In addition, USDA has made available $100 million in grants under Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) to nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide that supply renewable fuels to American motorists, such as E15 and E85.
  • USDA also took new steps to support biobased product manufacturing that promises to create new jobs across rural America, adding new categories of qualified biobased products for federal procurement and establishing reporting by federal contractors of biobased product purchases.
  • A recent USDA study of the bioeconomy found the biobased products industry generates $369 billion and 4 million jobs each year for our economy.
  • The expanding bioeconomy means more choices for customers and new jobs for rural America. Shifting just 20 percent of the current plastics produced into bioplastics could create an increase of 104,000 jobs nationwide.

Trade

Through the Administration's Made in Rural America Export and Investment Initiative, USDA is working to help farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses access federal export programs, connect with new customers and markets abroad, and bring new opportunity to rural America.

  • Record Exports: Agricultural exports have climbed more than 45 percent in value since 2009, totaling $911.4 billion over the past 7 years, besting all previous records in terms of value and volume. Exports support more than 1 million American jobs.
  • Breaking Down Barriers: USDA has removed numerous unfair restrictions to U.S. trade to help farmers export more. Examples include: U.S. apples to China, a market with an estimated value of nearly $100 million per year; and expanded market access for U.S. beef in Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Uruguay. Total U.S. beef and beef product exports reached a record $6.8 billion (1.2 billion tons) in fiscal year 2014.
  • Expanding Access to Credit: USDA support has helped more than 89,000 rural small businesses grow through grant and loan support, creating or saving more than 420,000 jobs.

Increasing Access to Land and Capital

Over the past seven years, USDA has extended resources to support a strong next generation of farmers and ranchers by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing outreach, education, and technical support.

  • From 2009-2014, USDA increased investments in new and beginning farmers across several key programs by 14.1 percent.
  • USDA will further increase access to key New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher programs by increasing investments by over $5.6 billion over the next two years.
  • FSA's microloan program is an important access point to credit for some new farmers and ranchers and 70 percent of these loans have gone to beginning farmers.
  • Since the program's inception in January 2013, USDA has issued more than 16,000 microloans to help small, underserved, and beginning farmers obtain operating credit.
  • In 2015, USDA expanded the microloan program providing flexible access to credit, and increased lending limits. Beginning and small farmers can now borrow up to $50,000 to help finance farm operations.

StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity

In 2010, Secretary Vilsack established the StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity to address the specific challenges associated with rural poverty. Since then, StrikeForce teams have collaborated with more than 1,500 community partners and public entities to bring targeted assistance to rural areas experiencing chronic poverty.

  • These efforts have invested more than $23.5 billion to create jobs, build homes, feed kids, assist farmers and conserve natural resources across more than twenty states.
  • In 2015, StrikeForce projects resulted in:
  • $7.49 billion invested
  • 75,482,986 summer meals for kids
  • 9997 farmers assisted
  • 14, 629 conservation efforts
  • 133,232 home investments
  • In 2016, StrikeForce expanded to include Florida, Missouri, Montana, and Ohio. USDA StrikeForce teams now operate in 970 counties in 25 states and Puerto Rico.

Promise Zones

A child's zip code should never determine her destiny; but today, the community she grows up in impacts her odds of graduating high school, her health outcomes, and her lifetime economic opportunities. For kids who do not get an equal start in life, President Obama and USDA are committed to partnering with local leaders to give them proven tools to rebuild and put people back to work.

  • The Obama Administration has provided proven tools to combat poverty, investing more than $350 million in 100 communities experiencing persistent poverty since 2009.
  • Launched in 2013, StrikeForce designates a number of high poverty urban, rural and tribal communities as Promise Zones, where the federal government partners with and invests in communities to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and improve public safety.

Providing Critical Nutrition Assistance to Those in Need

USDA programs provide a critical nutrition safety net for millions of American children and families. By increasing access to healthy foods and reinforcing consistent, comprehensive messages about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, these programs make a real difference in the lives of children and their families, ensuring a brighter, healthier future for the entire country. Over the past seven years, USDA has made significant progress in maximizing the ability of these programs to fight hunger and improve health, while also ensuring benefits are delivered efficiently and with integrity.

USDA has led the historic implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, ensuring over 50 million children have a healthier food environment at school. USDA improvements and enhancements to school food environments include:

  • Expanding participation in the summer meal program. Since 2009, USDA has helped serve over 1.2 billion summer meals to low-income kids when school is not in session and healthy school meals are not available.
  • In its four-year history, Farm to School programs have increased the number of students purchasing school breakfast and lunch, improved consumption of healthier foods at school and reduced plate waste.
  • Participants in Farm to School programs have also seen improved acceptance of and support for healthier school meals, as well as lower school meal program costs.
  • 12,300 schools and 6.9 million students are estimated to have been reached through these activities.
  • Implementation of the Community Eligibility Provision nationwide, which helps to ensure all children have access to healthy breakfast and lunch at school, free of charge.
  • To date, more than 17,000 schools (about 60 percent of eligible schools) in nearly 3,000 school districts are participating, reaching more than 8.1 million students.
  • Participating districts have increased school lunch participation by an average of 5 percent and school breakfast participation by an average of 9 percent. Some school districts have seen participation increase by as much as 37 percent.

Additionally, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has helped millions of hardworking families put healthy food on the table while they get back on their feet. During the Great Recession, SNAP benefits helped cut the number of children living in extreme poverty in half, and in 2014, kept at least 4.7 million people, including nearly 2.1 million children, out of poverty. Children and the elderly account for more than half of all SNAP participants and only 7 percent receive cash welfare. That's why USDA has made it a priority to undertake major efforts to improve the healthfulness of SNAP purchases, including:

  • Expanding access to healthy foods for SNAP participants by authorizing more than 6,000 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers to accept payment through the program and provided millions in funding to expand wireless card readers to additional markets.
  • In FY 2015, USDA invested in state employment and training programs designed to help people move off of SNAP in the right way—by helping participants build comprehensive skill sets and matching them with good paying jobs to help them move off the program. Employment and training pilot projects established in the 2014 Farm Bill are currently helping to identify promising practices which will enhance these efforts.

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