Friday, October 07, 2016

USDA announces $401M for 26 projects to reduce rural poverty in nation's poorest communities

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Berea, Ky., Thursday to announce $401 million for 26 projects to help reduce rural poverty in some of the nation's poorest and most isolated communities, says a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release. Most of the projects are in Appalachia, the "colonias" along the U.S./Mexico border and in the Mississippi Delta. The grant fund will be managed by Justin Maxson, executive director of North Carolina-based Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and former head of the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.

The grants will make long-term, low-interest financing available to the community-development organizations, which "will 're-lend' the money to build, acquire, maintain or renovate essential community services and facilities, such as education, health care and infrastructure," Jack Brammer reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"Under the program, private financial institutions, including $100 million from Bank of America, will provide guarantees for a portion of the loans," Brammer writes. "The recipient organizations, or 're-lenders,' also must seek grants provided by seven of the nation's premier philanthropic organizations through a $22 million fund."

Vilsack said: "This effort builds on our commitment to lifting up the economic prospects of communities that have not benefited from the revitalization of rural America. By engaging with local and national partners, private-sector financial institutions and philanthropic organizations, USDA will inject a game-changing level of investment capital to reduce poverty in targeted rural areas where the capacity for growth has not been realized. As we have seen with the Obama administration's Promise Zone initiative and USDA's StrikeForce effort, targeted, place-based investments can have a real impact on reducing poverty. This funding adds another important tool in that fight."

UPDATE, Oct. 9: The Herald-Leader praised the effort in an editorial.

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