TOP OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS HOLD 'RURAL TOUR' COMMUNITY FORUM IN WISCONSIN
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Transportation Secretary LaHood Discusses Administration Efforts, Collects Ideas on Strengthening Economic Development in Rural America
WEST SALEM, Wis., July 16, 2009 — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today visited Wisconsin and held a 'Rural Tour' community forum to discuss efforts by the Obama Administration to rebuild and revitalize rural America, listen to local residents talk about how the federal government can assist them, and discuss solutions to challenges facing their communities. This event follows the launch of the Obama Administration's 'Rural Tour' in June.
"To overcome challenges and be successful in a new, 21st century economy, President Obama has asked that we reach out to people in rural communities across the country to listen, learn and facilitate problem-solving," said Vilsack. "It is critically important to hear the thoughts, concerns and stories about each community's vision for its future and to collect ideas about how USDA can better serve these communities."
"Supporting good jobs, modern infrastructure, and sound economic development is just as important to rural areas as it is to urban areas," said Secretary LaHood. "With your help, we can revitalize transportation in the United States, and ensure that all citizens have access to the safe, efficient, clean transportation systems they need and deserve."
At today's rural community forum, the two Obama Administration officials discussed how to strengthen economic development in rural America. They highlighted the importance of investing in physical infrastructure like roads and bridges to spur economic development, but also building out broadband infrastructure to rural communities in every corner of the country. They also noted the importance of producing next generation biofuels to develop 'green jobs' and generate energy from new, homegrown sources.
Secretaries Vilsack and LaHood also highlighted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act efforts that are underway in Wisconsin and across the country, including the following:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has made more than $375 million available to help revitalize transportation in Wisconsin and put people back to work across the state.
For small urban and rural transit systems in Wisconsin, the Recovery Act provides 34 million dollars to help purchase things such new clean-fuel buses, vans, and other equipment to enhance the mobility of those living outside the state's urban centers.
USDOT is providing almost 16 million dollars in recovery funds to improve airport runways and other facilities – not just in bigger cities like Madison and Milwaukee, but also smaller towns like Rhinelander.
Nearly $3.2 million in Recovery funds is being made available for Amtrak upgrades in Wisconsin, including improvements in La Crosse and elsewhere to better meet requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Acts.
Through USDA's Rural Development, 6 communities in Wisconsin will benefit from $16.6 million in investments in local water and waste systems.
Through USDA's Rural Development, approximately $6.2 million will be made available for 8 community facilities projects.
USDA's Forest Service is providing $200,000 for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest for treatment of hazardous fuels to reduce the possibility of forest fire outbreaks, as well as ecosystem restoration.
USDA's Rural Development has helped guarantee 1,184 loans worth $145 million in the state of Wisconsin through the Single Family Housing Loan program. These loans help residents and producers to have access to the capital they need to keep rural communities strong.
USDA's Farm Service Agency is working to distribute the $173 million allocated in the Recovery Act for its Direct Operating Farm Loan Program. So far, 131 Wisconsin farmers have been awarded nearly $8 million in loans to purchase land, livestock, equipment, feed, seed, and supplies.
USDA's National Resources Conservation Service announced nearly $20 million in funding for 23 floodplain easement projects in Wisconsin, which will reduce the impact of flooding. Projects include a floodplain easement for the Kickapoo River Watershed, as well as near the Village of LaFarge, just southeast of Lacrosse, which was inundated 2 years in a row with floodwaters.
Through USDA, the Recovery Act provided for an estimated increase of $26.2 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in Wisconsin. Most four-person households will receive an $80 increase in their monthly SNAP benefit. Eligibility limits on jobless adults will be suspended in most areas. The State of Wisconsin also received $2.3 million in State Administrative Funds.
USDA is also helping low-income Wisconsin residents to receive healthy, nutritious meals through $1.8 million in funding from The Emergency Food Assistance Program. Kids in Wisconsin also will benefit from $1.3 through the National School Lunch Program.
In June, President Obama announced that Secretary Vilsack will lead the Administration's Rural Tour to visit rural communities in states throughout the country. Secretary Vilsack is scheduled to lead Rural Tour events with a variety of other top administration officials over the coming weeks and months in Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. As the tenth similar forum Secretary Vilsack has led since being sworn, these upcoming events follow the rural listening sessions held earlier this year in Charlotte, Mich., Concord, N.H., Wattsburg, Pa., Danville, Ind., Geneseo, Ill., Harrodsburg, Ky., Ludowici, Ga., Portageville, Mo., and Brush, Colo.