USDA expands StrikeForce rural poverty program

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



PINEVILLE, Ky., Jan. 17, 2014 -USDA has expanded its StrikeForce Initiative, which targets pockets of persistent poverty, into Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the expansion today in Pineville, Ky., where he was joined Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers, R.-Ky.

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The program, officially the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity, began in 2010, with the goal of using public-private partnerships to stimulate investments in poor, rural areas. It now operates in 20 states.

"The StrikeForce strategy of partnering public resources with local expertise is helping to grow rural economies and create jobs in persistent poverty communities," Vilsack said in a news release. "This is a strategy that is working in rural America and I am pleased that we continue to build on these efforts to bring assistance to areas that need it the most."

Vilsack said the initiative is producing concrete results. Through StrikeForce, USDA has partnered with over 400 community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support 80,300 projects and ushered more than $9.7 billion in investments into rural America, including:

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) has seen a 14 percent increase in the total direct farm loan applications received in StrikeForce areas since the beginning of the initiative;

In fiscal 2013, FSA provided nearly $9.3 million for microloans in StrikeForce areas. Approximately 84 percent of the loans went to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers;

Last year, the number of landowners applying for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs in StrikeForce areas increased by 82 percent over the previous year;

In fiscal 2013, the Rural Housing Community Facilities Program obligated a total of $68 million to fund hospitals, libraries and other projects in StrikeForce areas - a 4.5 percent increase over 2012;-Between 2012 and 2013, the Food and Nutrition Service doubled the redemption of SNAP benefits at farmers markets from $2 million to over $4 million in StrikeForce states.

In 2012, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service increased the number of children in StrikeForce states receiving free or reduced price school breakfasts by 7.4 percent.

"Through StrikeForce, we are able to reach people in new ways and bring resources to them directly," said Vilsack. "We are learning better ways to help communities leverage their assets and bring opportunity to their residents."

USDA looks for census tracts with over 20 percent poverty (according to American Community Survey data) to identify sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs and help build program participation through intensive community outreach.

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