TOP OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS HOLD 'RURAL TOUR' COMMUNITY FORUM IN NEBRASKA
Cabinet Secretaries Discuss Administration Efforts, Collect Ideas on Revitalizing and Rebuilding Rural America
Scottsbluff, Neb., September 28, 2009 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the Scottsbluff National Monument today and held a 'Rural Tour' community forum to discuss production agriculture as well as 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.
"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 Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. "It is critically important to hear the thoughts, concerns and stories about Nebraska's vision for its future and to collect ideas about how USDA can better serve these communities. The thoughts, ideas and concerns for the future I heard in Scottsbluff were a reminder of the strength and optimism I have seen in communities throughout rural America."
"President Obama understands that our nation's food supply, our energy security, our prosperity, and the health of our lands and watersheds depend on the strength of America's rural communities," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "By creating jobs and investing in revitalization initiatives, the President's economic recovery plan is an important down payment on the future of rural America. To help rural communities meet their full potential, however, we must continue to listen, gather new ideas, and keep communities like Scottsbluff front and center on the agenda."
At today's rural community forum, Vilsack discussed how the USDA is working to promote a sustainable, safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply, ensure that America leads the global fight against climate change, and revitalize rural communities by expanding economic opportunities.
Secretary Vilsack also highlighted the USDA's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act efforts that are underway in Nebraska and across the country, including the following:
USDA's Rural Development has helped guarantee 483 loans worth more than $40.5 million in the state of Nebraska 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 providing $15.1 million through 263 Direct Operating Farm Loans. These loans help farms purchase items such as livestock, farm equipment, feed, seed, fuel, farm chemicals, insurance, and other operating expenses.
USDA's Rural Development is providing over $21.4 million to help make improvements at 2 water and waste treatment projects.
Through USDA's Rural Development, $18 million will be made available for 6 community facilities projects. Community Facility Grants will allow towns across Nebraska to purchase critical emergency service vehicles and equipment, build emergency operations centers and community centers.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service announced $1.7 million for a watershed rehabilitation project and $4.2 million for 2 watershed operation projects. In addition, the USDA will be investing $300,000 for a floodplain easement project.
USDA's Agricultural Research Service is providing $1.3 million in funding to assist with critical deferred maintenance projects at the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, Neb.
USDA's Rural Development has issued five Rural Business and Enterprise Grants for a total of $147,800.
Through USDA, the Recovery Act provided for an estimated increase of more than $68 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in Nebraska. 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.
USDA is also helping low-income Nebraska residents to receive healthy, nutritious meals through $554,000 in funding from The Emergency Food Assistance Program. Kids in Nebraska also will benefit from $532,000 through the National School Lunch Program.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar noted that the Department of the Interior is investing $2.6 million in Nebraska through the Recovery Act, including:
$111,000 to rehabilitate the boundary fence and markings at Scotts Bluff National Monument.
$295,000 in a road maintenance project for the reservation of the Omaha Tribe. Overall, DOI's Bureau of Indian Affairs is investing over $900,000 in repair and maintenance for roads and bridges in Nebraska that benefit tribal nations.
$250,000 in an energy conservation and geothermal conversion project at Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge.
$575,000 to replace the West and South boundary bison fence at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.
$180,000 to upgrade United States Geological Survey streamgages in Nebraska. These streamgages provide critical information used to estimate flood dangers, protect fragile ecosystems, construct safe bridges and roadways, and monitor the effects of climate change on water availability.
$68,000 to replace the roof on the visitor center at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.
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 other top administration officials over the coming weeks with the next event in New Mexico. Monday's event will be the twentieth similar forum Secretary Vilsack has led since being sworn in, and follows rural listening sessions held in El Reno, Okla., Zanesville, Ohio, Modesto, Calif., Sedalia, Mo., Des Moines, Iowa, Hamlet, N.C., Bethel, Alaska, St. John Parish, La., Blairs, Va., West Salem, Wis., Charlotte, Mich., Concord, N.H., Wattsburg, Pa., Danville, Ind., Geneseo, Ill., Harrodsburg, Ky., Ludowici, Ga., Portageville, Mo., and Brush, Colo.
USDA recently launched a new website and social media tools designed to enhance discussions and facilitate innovation for challenges facing rural America. All Americans can follow the Rural Tour's progress online at www.RuralTour.gov , on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RuralTour , or on USDA's Facebook fan page available at www.facebook.com/usda .
USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272(voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).