White House Rural Council Blog

  • Key Federal Agencies Collaborate to Provide Funding and Support for Rural America

    On Tuesday, June 12, three federal agencies announced a new project to assist high-need rural areas facing chronic poverty along the U.S.-Mexico border. This new project is part of a series of initiatives delivered through the White House Rural Council, which recently released a report detailing the steps President Obama and this administration have taken to support rural America.

    The Border Community Capital Initiative (“Border Initiative”) is a collaborative effort among the Department of Agriculture-Rural Development (USDA-RA), Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These three federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and, together, will increase economic development activity at a community level throughout these high need areas, known as colonias.

    Colonias are communities within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. These high-need communities frequently lack fundamental resources such as sanitary housing, access to potable water, and adequate sewage systems. Under the Border Initiative, up to $200,000 will be made available to nonprofit and tribal financial institutions serving colonias. These funds will be used for direct investment and technical assistance focused on providing access to valuable resources that these communities lack.

    Previous federal programs with similar goals have faced significant barriers in implementation, such as limited capacity among organizations serving colonias and a lack of stable funding available to them. The Border Initiative is tailored to correct for this by directing funds toward improving the capacity of local financial institutions to raise capital and increase lending; and boosting investment in their communities.

  • Connecting Educators, Building Communities Across Rural America

    Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the ED Blog  

    In an increasingly interconnected world, we can no longer allow geography to be a barrier to education and opportunity in rural America.

    Through the national broadband plan and unprecedented investments in education reform, the Obama administration is leveraging the power of technology to overcome distance and increase collaboration to accelerate student achievement in rural schools.

    Today, the White House Rural Council announced the U.S. Department of Education's new online community of practice group for rural schools. Virtual communities of practice provide a platform for educators to connect to resources, tools, colleagues, experts, and learning activities, both within and beyond schools.

  • Innovative Financing: Creating Access and Opportunity For Small Business In America's Rural Economy

    Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the SBA Blog

    This week marks the one-year anniversary of the creation of the White House Rural Council, an Administration-wide initiative to support and strengthen America’s rural economy. And our progress over the last year is detailed in a new report released today. 

    As part of our efforts, we are making sure that more entrepreneurs who live in rural areas have the access and opportunity they need to start, build and grow their businesses.

    We know innovation and entrepreneurship doesn’t just take place in New York and Silicon Valley. It’s happening in West Virginia, all along the I-79 High Tech Corridor, where I was last month. It’s happening in Iowa and Georgia and Nebraska.

    And if we want to continue to grow our economy—and be more globally competitive—we need to make sure that we can harness the potential of entrepreneurs and small businesses in all of these communities.

    To make that possible, the Small Businesses Administration is working to increase the flow of capital to rural areas. In fact, SBA has helped put more than $400 million in investment capital directly into the hands of high growth rural businesses through our agency’s Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) since last October.

  • White House Rural Council: Rural Stakeholders Meeting

    On Tuesday, May 1st, the White House Rural Council, along with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, hosted a group of 24 rural health care providers and experts to discuss issues around access to care and improving health outcomes in rural communities.

    Rural physicians, nurses, mental hospital administrators, and rural health associations from across the country gathered to discuss a range of rural health issues--from the need to expand broadband to support telehealth services in California, to ways to improve health outcomes by focusing on nutrition and healthy living choices in Ohio.

    During the meeting, Secretary Sebelius, announced $10.4 million in funding for 70 Rural Health Outreach Grants.  These grants will address the needs of a wide range of population groups; including low-income families and individuals, the elderly, pregnant women, children, minorities and individuals with special health care needs.

    Both Sebelius and Vilsack remarked that in their experience as Governors, they learned firsthand how important health care is for a vibrant rural community. They both agree that without access to quality, affordable, health care rural communities cannot compete for growth and economic development.  

    A recent RAND study that shows that 5.5 million rural Americans will now have access to health coverage because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In addition, 394,000 young adults in rural areas have gained coverage thanks to being able to stay on their parent’s insurance plan. Click here for more information on how this law is making a difference in the lives of millions of people like you.

    Health care has long been a key focus area for the White House Rural Council. In August, the Administration announced a number of policy initiatives including expanding the National Health Service Corps to Critical Access Hospitals and improving access to capital for helping hospitals and clinics leverage emerging health information technology such as electronic health records. This session served as an excellent forum to discuss important opportunities and challenges and to initiative further solutions that can help rural Americans receive the best health care possible. Stay tuned for more updates on Rural Council events and announcements.

  • Conservation That Works

    I was recently in Atlanta, Georgia to speak at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference about Working Lands for Wildlife, a new effort to focus both conservation dollars and wildlife management expertise on the recovery of seven at-risk, threatened or endangered wildlife species. This unique approach to conservation concentrates federal resources on private working lands—home to a majority of candidate and listed species under the Endangered Species Act. Working Lands for Wildlife was developed by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior through their membership in the White House Rural Council.

    Working with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners is critical to President Obama’s vision of an economy built to last, one where rural communities provide clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat to generate economic opportunities for outdoor recreation and jobs, while protecting farm and ranch traditions. Working Lands for Wildlife demonstrates the President’s focus on the rural economy and his commitment to keep working lands working.

    Knowing I was speaking to an audience passionate about wildlife, I took a moment to revisit a time from 100 years ago when Theodore Roosevelt addressed a similar group, saying, "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country."  People of all political persuasions have found commonality around the fundamental principle of conservation—a principle that has always recognized the importance of wildlife.

    Working Lands for Wildlife is a partnership between the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make measurable progress in wildlife conservation through focused community-driven, locally led efforts across America.

    To engage private landowners, NRCS has committed $33 million to share in the cost of conservation practices benefiting the bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, New England cottontail and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will work to provide landowners with regulatory certainty and tools to assist them in making long-term business decisions.

    This collaborative approach builds on the success we are realizing in the Western U.S. with NRCS’s Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI), where ranchers are projected to have increased sage grouse populations by 8 to 10 percent through wildlife habitat conservation practices such as prescribed grazing, brush management and fence flagging.

    Through SGI, on the Bedortha Ranch in central Oregon, intensive efforts to boost sage grouse habitat are underway. As part of that effort, crews have cut and flattened invasive juniper trees. These trees have expanded beyond their historic locations into sagebrush terrain throughout the West, out-competing other valuable shrubs and plants that provide habitat for the ground-dwelling sage-grouse.

    Rancher Gary Bedortha

    Rancher Gary Bedortha removed nearly 7,000 acres of invading juniper on his ranch to improve his working lands for sage grouse habitat.

    As the junipers increased on his ranch, Gary Bedortha watched the sage-grouse population decline. “When I was a kid growing up in this country, I knew some of these draws had an excess of 100 sage grouse—you would ride through the draws and the whole ground would move in front of you. At that time, we didn’t have the juniper like we do now,” Bedortha said.

    This ranch is only one example of the success we can accomplish on private lands. Bedortha used the information and financial assistance he received from NRCS to remove nearly 7,000 acres of invading juniper in less than three years. We know taking a focused approach to wildlife conservation maximizes the public’s investment and return.

    We hope to increase populations for all seven focal species targeted by Working Lands for Wildlife. Americans dedicated to wildlife conservation on private lands will ensure that it is not only an effective tool for wildlife but that it works as a viable tool for outdoor recreation, jobs and opportunities to create rural wealth.

    Since the White House Rural Council was established last June, the Council has provided a forum for increasing conservation work and creating jobs in rural America. The Working Lands for Wildlife joint partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior exemplifies the progress we can achieve through the work of the Rural Council.

    Harris Sherman is Undersecretary for USDA’s Natural Resources and Environment

  • White House Rural Council Sponsors "Working Lands and Healthy Watersheds Roundtable"

    Success Stories Highlighted

    On Wednesday, the White House Rural Council sponsored a Working Lands and Healthy Watersheds roundtable. The Rural Council, established last June, provides a forum for discussing how to support conservation work and create jobs in rural America. This week's roundtable brought together folks from across the country with experience in farming, ranching, conservation, and water quality to share their experience in how to more effectively and efficiently invest resources to improve water quality for rural communities.

    The roundtable was an opportunity to celebrate some of the good work already happening and to share innovative ideas for continuing progress. We heard how leaders from three states successfully used EPA Section 319 grant program and USDA Farm Bill conservation programs to improve water quality in critical watersheds. We also heard about what stakeholders most need to carry out new and long-term on-the-ground efforts, and how EPA and USDA can improve their support for those efforts at the local scale.

    Some of the themes that emerged from the session are:

    • Partnerships and On-the-Ground Leadership are essential to success. It takes time to forge the relationships that lead to results.
    • Stakeholder Education and Engagement helps landowners and producers understand their broader role and tie their actions to a broader community and mission. 
    • Using a Watershed Scale Approach creates a community for all who impact or depend on the watershed.
    • Flexibility is essential to success on the ground, and allows stakeholders to work strategically and to leverage resources to support watershed efforts.
    • Tracking the outcomes and impact of projects over time is critical to success and assists in identifying where further investments are needed.

    The nation's rural landowners, farmers, ranchers, and forest owners are often our best environmental stewards, providing clean water and wildlife habitat from the healthy, functioning watersheds on their lands. We are committed to supporting this good work, and look forward to continuing the conversation about partnerships that support farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and  the healthy watersheds communities depend on.

    Here's what some of the roundtable participants had to say about the discussion:

    Successful water quality improvement projects appear to be united by four primary themes. Positive relationships between landowners/land operators and the agency specialists that facilitate projects are a critical first step to success. Access to, and understanding of, water monitoring and practice performance data leads to setting goals, targeting implementation and measuring outcomes at the watershed level. Coordination and information sharing between partners expedites the process of implementing watershed improvement plans. Versatility in how funding can be used from public and private sources can lead to unexpected opportunities and benefits.

    It's easy to see we have the system in place to provide great technical expertise, but we need to incorporate lessons learned from watershed project successes around the country and utilize a strategy that facilitates and empowers watershed communities, priming individuals to act.

    ~ Chad Ingels, Extension Watershed Specialist, Iowa State University Extension

    Voluntary efforts to address nonpoint source pollution can work. The trick is you need strong partnerships with local entities like conservation districts that have a positive history with landowners You also must coordinate programs from EPA 319 and USDA to ensure you get the most bang for your buck. This, combined with monitoring data to assess the effects of best management practices on tributaries, has achieved show significant reductions in nonpoint source pollution in many priority watersheds.

    ~ Clay Pope, Executive Director, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts

    Farmers in the U.S. have made tremendous strides over the past several decades toward increasing production while at the same time improving environmental conservation. EPA Section 319 grants and USDA Farm Bill conservation programs have played an important role in supporting the voluntary adoption of best management practices. Using a watershed approach, we are also able to more accurately measure how conservation practices are directly improving water quality in a particular region, which in turn helps farmers and landowners focus our efforts.

    As the world's population increases to 9 billion people by 2050, we understand that agricultural producers will be expected to do more with less. We have a finite amount of land, water and other natural resources; however, through research, technology development and support from federal programs, American farmers will continue to produce the most abundant and affordable supply of food, feed, fuel and fiber in the world. We will be equipped to meet growing demand while also preparing to pass along the land, better than we found it, to the next generation of producers.

    ~ Rod Snyder, National Corn Growers Association

    Ann Mills is Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at USDA

    Larry Elworth is Chief Agriculture Counselor at EPA