WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2016 - In rural America, poverty, hunger and unemployment rates are down and population declines have stopped, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said today, attributing much of the improvement to the efforts of the White House Rural Council. The Council was formed early in the Obama administration to streamline federal assistance and strengthen local and state resources to support the rural economy.

To keep up that momentum, Vilsack today announced $24.4 million in new grants and loans to bolster business and job growth in rural America, where an estimated 6 million people still live in poverty, including about 1.5 million children.

About $10.9 billion of that total will go towards zero-interest loans for people trying to start new businesses, $9.1 million will be used to establish a revolving loan fund for small businesses, $3.2 million for technical assistance and training for small business owners, and $1.2 million will be used for microloans to companies with less than 10 employees.

President Barack Obama also pointed to improved conditions in rural America in an open op-ed piece released today.

“Over the last eight years, my administration has worked hand-in-hand with rural communities to build more opportunity – investing in rural schools, supporting rural small business owners, deploying high speed internet and wireless, and building partnerships between businesses and colleges to help train folks not just for a job, but for a career,” Obama said.  “Today, rural unemployment has dropped from a high of about 10 percent during the Great Recession to 6 percent. The rural child poverty rate is dropping, and rural median household incomes are rising again. We certainly still have more work to do, but we're moving in the right direction.”

Perhaps the biggest effort during the Obama administration to improve the rural economy came in the form of the U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund. The White House Rural Council created the fund two years ago to support private operations that want to finance investment in rural infrastructure projects.

CoBank, a national cooperative bank, kicked off the fund with a pledge to finance $10 billion worth of projects.

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Since 2014, more than $3 billion in private sector funding has been lent to over 400 financings of projects in the power, water, communications and community facilities industries,” USDA and White House said today in a fact sheet that outlines other projects totaling more than $35 million aimed at helping rural communities.

On Wednesday, Vilsack, who chairs the White House Rural Council, will convene a forum at Penn State University. Along with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, he plans to lead discussions on critical issues facing rural communities, including opportunities for growth and strategies for improving health care and housing. Vilsack was also to travel to Berea, Kentucky, to call attention to rural issues, USDA said.


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