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From Recovery to Renewal: Rural America's Partner for Prosperity

Posted by Lisa Mensah, Under Secretary for Rural Development in Initiatives Energy Rural USDA Results
Sep 01, 2016
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack swearing into office the new Under Secretary for Rural Development (RD) Lisa Mensah
Secretary Vilsack swore me in to be the Under Secretary for Rural Development (RD), and I'm so proud of the work we've accomplished.

Eight years ago this month, the US economy went into free fall. The crash of the housing market led to a chain of historic levels of bankruptcies and layoffs. The stock market would eventually lose 20% of its value; family incomes, investments, and home values were being crushed. Along with that, the hopes and dreams of many families.

One month after stepping into office, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the greatest single investment in our nation’s economy since “The New Deal.”

And with that tool – that resource – the men and women of USDA Rural Development (RD) went to work with ‘boots on the ground’ in every part of rural America. Our field staff knew about the rural communities, businesses, and producers that had projects sitting at ‘go’ just waiting for a financial investment to get them off the ground.

The housing sector of the economy was most impacted by the recession. A strategic federal investment in rural housing put a stable floor back in the market and USDA’s Rural Housing Service (RHS) was a key player; When private lenders were pulling back, Rural Development was stepping up. RHS essentially doubled its production during the Recovery Act from making 73,000 mortgages in 2008 to 145,000 mortgages in 2009 and 150,000 mortgages in 2010.  Even after the Recovery Act ended, RHS averaged 150,000 mortgages over the next five-year period, thanks in large part to the expansion of our guaranteed loan program. The single family guaranteed home loan program has grown from averaging 36,000 mortgages in the eight years prior to 2009 to averaging nearly 136,000 mortgages over that last eight years – all by leveraging private lender funds with a federal guarantee which makes taxpayer dollars go farther and gets more deserving families their piece of the American Dream.

As President Roosevelt pulled America out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, he turned to USDA to bring electricity to rural America. In 2009, President Obama called on USDA and the Rural Utility Service to bring smart grid technology to those transmission lines, making them more efficient and reliable. The Recovery Act also addressed the next frontier in rural economic development: investing nearly $3 billion in telecommunications and broadband technology, providing high-speed internet access to nearly six million rural Americans. And, it brought unprecedented investments in rural water and wastewater systems communities that desperately needed them.

On top of that, The Recovery Act contained the single largest federal investment in renewable energy ever made. The Rural Business and Cooperative Service invested in bio-refineries, advanced biofuels, and the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP). Since 2009, REAP has helped finance more than 11,000 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have reduced energy costs for roughly 15,000 rural businesses. When operational, these projects will generate or save almost 9 million megawatt hours – enough to power more than 730,000 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more 5 million metric tons in carbon dioxide each year; the equivalent of removing more than 1.1 million cars from our roads.

In eight years, I am so proud of the work we’ve been able to do: leveraging private investment in rural America, partnering with local communities and maintaining the momentum of the Recovery Act by creating jobs, expanding opportunity for small businesses and improving the quality of life in rural America.

The people of rural America are resilient. They rise to take advantage of every opportunity for partnership. In my time as Under Secretary, I have received the blessings of Native American elders and the thankful tears of leaders who see our federal investment dollars as key to moving forward the big projects of water or housing or business that many thought impossible.  I am inspired by their hope in what we can do together.

After eight years of hard work and innovation, USDA Rural Development has achieved much for rural America.  Check out more of our results here:

USDA Under Secretary Lisa Mensah visiting the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen
USDA Under Secretary Lisa Mensah visiting the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen