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ARRA

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

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.”

Hog Wild Over Broadband

Bringing broadband to rural areas is helping transform business operations, including family-owned hog farms.

Ralls County Electric Cooperative in Missouri received Recovery Act funding to provide fiber-to-the-premises in a very rural area of Missouri. One of the locations in the Ralls County Electric service territory is a local hog farm, Spring Lake Pork, just 20 miles west of the Mississippi River. This family-owned business was well experienced in hog management, but to stay in business, they needed to upgrade to a smarter and much more efficient operation with state-of-the-art equipment. They also needed robust broadband service to manage a wealth of data.

Fighting Crime with Fiber Optics

Near Stearns, Kentucky, a state trooper monitored traffic, watching for a car described in a just-issued bulletin. A car passed. No match.

Stearns is situated on the Upper Cumberland Plateau, McCreary County which is home to just 18,000 people.

Another car flashed by.

Gigabit Comes to Rural Western North Carolina

At the foot of Mount Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi River, sits the quiet town of Burnsville, North Carolina. People come and go from the textile factory, hikers visit to climb the mountain, and a colorful art scene adds flavor to the community. But in 2009 in the wake of the stock market crash, unemployment in the county rose to 11.9 percent. Burnsville’s problems were compounded by the lack of broadband Internet outside of the town-center, which limited its potential growth.

When USDA announced broadband funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Burnsville-based Country Cablevision saw an opportunity to expand and upgrade their existing Internet service in Mitchell and Yancey Counties.

Broadband Access in South Texas

For over 15 years, Valley Telephone Cooperative, Inc. provided its customers in the southernmost part of Texas with broadband service. Neighboring communities, however, lacked access to high-speed Internet. That changed seven years ago this week when Congress passed and President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Thanks to Recovery Act funding, Valley Telephone Cooperative received a $40 million loan and a $38.5 million grant from USDA to build broadband in unserved and underserved rural areas. Now, 11 communities—many with residents who live below the poverty line—can take advantage of services that until now were unavailable.

What I Would Have Said Today to Vice President Biden about the Recovery Act

This blog is cross posted from Secretary Vilsack's Medium page:

Somedays being a Cabinet member, you have to be flexible. Today is one of those days. While in New Orleans to speak to the Renewable Fuel Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, I traveled to the Port of New Orleans to attend an event with Vice President Biden. The Vice President scheduled an event at the port to highlight the 7th anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The Vice President is the most logical person to celebrate the anniversary of ARRA achievements since he led the historic effort on behalf of the Administration. I was to be one of the warm-up acts for Vice President Biden, but due to a scheduling conflict, I had to leave before the program started. Out of respect for the Vice President's effort to lead the Administration's implementation of ARRA, I had planned to highlight for him the enormous investment made in rural America as a result of ARRA. If I had been able to stay, I would have pointed to these 6 big investments by USDA:

2,700 Miles of Fiber

In 2010, Scott County, Tennessee languished at a twenty-one percent unemployment rate, not unusual for rural areas. By early 2015, that rate had halved. Through fiber optic power, Highland Telephone Cooperative’s vision, and funding from USDA Rural Development, these rural counties have become robust community models of technological enfranchisement.

Five years ago in the communities dotting the Upper Cumberland Plateau, lack of broadband access was a barrier to services that residents and businesses in urban areas take for granted. Geographical challenges such as the region’s remote and rocky terrain, combined with the lack of subscribers to provide business income, are common reasons rural areas do not enjoy affordable and reliable high-speed internet service.

USDA Investments Make Big Impact in Rural America

USDA Rural Development’s just released 2015 Progress Report highlights the many ways that the Agency’s investments in businesses and communities created jobs, provided economic opportunities and improved local infrastructure for millions of rural residents.

This report also presents the historic level of investment in rural communities since President Obama took office in 2009. Among the highlights, USDA:

Food Insecurity in U.S. Households Essentially Unchanged from 2013, but Down from 2011 High

USDA’s recently released annual report on the incidence and severity of food insecurity in American households marks 20 years of Federal statistics measuring U.S. food insecurity. This year’s report, presenting 2014 data, shows that 86.0 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year, meaning that all household members had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. In 2014, 14.0 percent of U.S. households (17.4 million households) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of financial or other resources. Food insecurity, essentially unchanged from 2013, is down from a high of 14.9 percent measured in 2011.  

Looking back over the last several years, the food insecurity rate, as expected, rose in 2008 with the recession. But the food insecurity rate has not returned to pre-recession levels. Research shows that while modest improvements in food security have accompanied declining unemployment, other changes in the economy, including higher food prices, appear to offset the effect of unemployment declines. These higher food prices, along with an increase in overall inflation, are key factors preventing food insecurity rates from any substantial decline. Another Economic Research Service (ERS) study found that, particularly for households receiving benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), higher local food prices were related to higher food insecurity.

How 80 Years of Rural Electrification Will Help Bring Broadband to Rural America

We’re celebrating the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration this month. The REA was created because in 1935, rural areas had no electricity—no lights or power to transform their hard work and efforts into efficiency and productivity. With the creation of the REA, and the subsequent Congressional action through the Rural Electrification Act, REA was able to empower rural America, changing lives and livelihoods for the better.