The Biden administration has released a historic amount of funding to fill gaps in broadband service across the country. The $42.5 billion that was provided by the bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021 is being routed through state agencies to decide where it should be allocated. 

Texas is getting the biggest share at $3.3 billion, followed by California at nearly $1.9 billion and Missouri at $1.7 billion. Michigan is getting $1.6 billion. The money will be used to build or upgrade broadband networks to ensure universal high-speed service.

“This is a watershed moment for millions of people across America who lack access to a high-speed internet connection. Access to internet service is necessary for work, education, healthcare, and more,” said Alan Davidson, the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for communication and information.

Vilsack downplays Mexican white corn tariff

Mexico, in an effort to strengthen the country’s domestic corn and tortilla producers, is placing a 50% tariff on white corn imports for the rest of 2023, but U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack downplayed the action, saying it would have little impact on U.S. exports.

“Well, the good news is that the vast, vast, vast majority of corn that's sold to Mexico from the U.S. is yellow corn – somewhere between 96 (and) 97% of all exports from the U.S. to Mexico is yellow corn, and obviously the tariff has no impact or effect on those sales at all,” Vilsack told reporters Monday.

But white corn and the ability of the U.S. to sell it to Mexican buyers are at the heart of an ongoing USMCA dispute between the two countries. Mexico in February banned tortilla companies from using flour made of genetically modified white corn, effectively banning imports of the biotech grain from the U.S.

Take note: Vilsack stressed that Mexico’s biotech ban has already shut down the ability of the U.S. to export white corn to Mexico.

“It's inconsistent with a science-based and rules-based trading system,” Vilsack said. “And that's the reason why we are pursuing our remedies under the USMCA. One of the benefits of USMCA is that it provides this mechanism for resolving disputes.”  

House members look to Forest Service training program to bolster wildland firefighter workforce 

Four House members on Monday proposed a bill to allow the Agriculture Department to offer specialized wildland firefighting training to students at the agency’s Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center. 

The bill, titled the Civilian Conservation Center Enhancement Act, also would provide the Forest Service with direct hire authority for graduates of CCC programs, allow the agency to pay CCC students for land improvement work, and require the agency to conduct an “assessment of workforce needs at public land agencies and related industries.” 

The bill includes a target of hiring 300 CCC graduates per year as wildland firefighters.

The bill is led by Reps. Andrea Salinas, D-Ore., Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., Chuck Edwards, R-N.C., and Val Hoyle, D-Calif.

APHIS releases strategy for battling spotted lanternfly

A five-year strategy for battling spotted lanternfly (SLF) focuses on halting the expansion of the colorful pest in order to protect U.S. agriculture.

After its first detection in eastern Pennsylvania in 2014, the lanternfly has spread to the District of Columbia and 13 more states – Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The strategy released by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service does not come with a price tag. It says the program “seeks to leverage state, federal, and industry resources and funding to effectively limit the advancement of the SLF while distributing funding among the strategy’s goals.”

Eighty percent of funding would go for operations and implementation, 15% for research, and 5% for outreach, the strategy said.

Rural residents more likely to have disability

New data from the Census Bureau shows that people living in rural areas have higher rates of disabilities than their urban counterparts.

About 20% of Americans live in rural areas and 14.7% have a disability. By comparison, 12.6% of urban Americans have a disability.

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Someone is considered disabled if they have difficulty seeing, hearing, concentrating or remembering, walking or climbing stairs, dressing or bathing, or doing errands. 

Keep in mind: The Census Bureau notes that’s it more difficult for people with disabilities in rural areas to get the care they need because of their geographic isolation and lack of transportation. 

Monarch still deserves protection under Endangered Species Act, FWS says

The monarch butterfly is still considered threatened enough by habitat loss and other factors to warrant official placement on the endangered species list, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in an annual notice on so-called “candidate species.”

But putting it on the list, which would require federal agencies to take a heightened role in protecting the species, is still “precluded by higher-priority listing actions,” the service said in a Federal Register notice published today.

Threats to the monarch’s continued existence include habitat loss and degradation, including the conversion of grasslands to agriculture, extensive herbicide and insecticide use, and logging and thinning at overwintering sites in Mexico, among other reasons, the service said.

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