The USDA supported rural businesses, infrastructure and housing with more than $33 in investments in fiscal 2013, creating 75,000 jobs in the process, according to a department report.
The agency highlighted several initiatives aimed at addressing persistent rural poverty, expanding health care for residents of the Mississippi River Delta region, and developing stronger partnerships between government, private-sector and community-based organizations.
The report comes almost one year after USDA Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager stepped down from the helm of this mission area. A replacement has yet to be named.
Since the start of the Obama administration, USDA business programs have provided more than 18,000 guaranteed loans, direct loans and grants to help more than 74,000 businesses create or save more than 375,000 jobs, the report states, adding that USDA is increasingly becoming the lender of choice for many Native American tribes.
Under USDA programs that support research into new energy sources, the department during the two last quarters of fiscal year 2013 made payments to operators of 56 anaerobic digesters that produced almost 173 million kilowatt hours of electricity – enough to power more than 17,000 homes annually, according to the report.
USDA broadband infrastructure loans awarded in FY 2013 will result in new or upgraded broadband service for about 120,000 rural households, businesses and community institutions once the projects are completed, the report states. The department said it also continued to make strides to bring distance learning and telemedicine infrastructure to rural areas, with a third of USDA's distance learning grants last year going to rural areas where the minority population is 30 percent or higher. Another third went to areas were poverty rates have been consistently high over long periods. All of the awards went to rural areas where residents lacked access to medical services.
The department cited Rural Development’s role in the recovery of the nation's housing market, particularly in rural areas, noting that for many realtors, USDA Rural Development loans account for most of their business. In 2013, nearly 163,000 rural families became homeowners through loans from private lenders that were guaranteed by USDA, and more than 7,000 families bought homes through direct loans from USDA, the agency said.
USDA's homeownership program is complemented by assistance that helps rural residents find affordable rental housing, with tenants paying no more than 30 percent of their income on rent for decent, safe housing. Last year, USDA provided rental assistance to nearly 280,000 rural residents, according to the report.
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