White House Rural Council Blog
- Posted byon July 1, 2011 at 11:55 AM EDT
On June 9th, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the first White House Rural Council. While rural communities face challenges, they also present economic potential. The Council will address these challenges, build on the Administration’s rural economic strategy, and improve the implementation of that strategy.
The Council, chaired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, was established to focus on policy initiatives for Rural Americans and will coordinate to increase the effectiveness of federal engagement with tribal governments. According to the 2010 U.S. Decennial Census, 42.6 percent of all Native Americans live in rural areas. In addition, some reservations face unemployment rates of up to 80 percent. The Council will work across federal agencies to address these challenges and promote economic prosperity and quality of life in Indian Country and across rural America. The Council will work to break down silos and find areas for better collaboration and improved flexibility in government programs and will work closely with state, local and tribal governments, non-profits, and the private sector to leverage federal support.
Plans are already underway for the Council to address ways to expand access to capital in rural communities, including an examination of the unique challenges facing Indian Country in increasing the flow of credit to Indian reservations. Economic development and job creation in Indian Country—and in all other sectors of the U.S. economy—depend on access to capital. When credit-worthy business owners can easily borrow to finance business start-up and expansion, the economy thrives. One thing we hear from tribal leaders, however, is that borrowing money for business development in Indian Country is difficult. The reasons range from difficulties in using tribal land as collateral, to the small number of lending institutions serving Indian Country, to lenders’ perceptions that lending to tribal members or tribal governments is risky.
- Posted byon June 24, 2011 at 2:20 PM EDT
Editor's Note: Cross-posted from the Blog of the U.S. Department of Labor
From the coal that makes it possible for us to power our computers, to the sand and gravel that serves as the foundation of our nation’s infrastructure, we simply could not function as a country without the natural resources that our miners provide.
Mining and extraction industries have been key drivers of rural economic growth during our recovery, creating 80,000 new jobs in the last year alone. Nationally, this sector employs nearly 730,000 people in communities from Appalachia to the American West. For some raised in rural communities where mining is a way of life, this work is part of their family DNA, a profession “handed down” from one generation to the next. For others, a career in the mines is a ticket to a better life for their families. According to our Bureau of Labor Statistics, continuous mining machine operators have an average base pay of $48,000 a year, while supervisors earn more than $70,000.
As a member of President Obama’s Rural Council, I am committed to helping miners get the training they need to harness our natural resources in a safe and cost-effective way. As rising gas prices continue to place strains on middle class families, it’s critical that we support the workers responsible for producing our domestic energy supply.
This commitment starts with maintaining a well-qualified workforce. During the next decade, some 50,000 new workers will have to be trained to replace the mining industry’s aging labor force. Recognizing this challenge, my department has awarded grants to a variety of rural stakeholders to develop training programs tailored to meet the employment needs of local industry.
The projects are as unique as the rural communities that they serve: Penn State University is using special simulators to teach students how to operate sophisticated machinery when down in the mines. Northern Wyoming Community College partnered with Penn State and devised a mobile laboratory to give students on-site training at local coal mines. The Alaska Department of Labor increased mining apprenticeship opportunities and developed a web portal to help Alaskans find jobs in the mining and energy sectors. The College of Eastern Utah offers mining classes to Hispanics and Native Americans in their unique languages. West Virginia University’s Mine Training and Placement Center provides instruction on everything from ventilation techniques to infection control to accident prevention for mineral miners.
But our investment in skills training is only part of our covenant with miners in rural America. The Obama administration is committed to aggressive enforcement of mine safety laws. Our country has a duty to ensure these workers return home to their families each day in the same condition they went to work.
My department’s Mine Safety & Health Administration has rewritten our regulations to toughen worker safety standards, strengthened our enforcement efforts to identify potential hazards, partnered with mining companies to improve emergency response time and rescue capability, and cracked down on operators that cut corners on safety and put workers at risk.
It has been 14 months since the explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine claimed 29 lives. I will never forget traveling to rural West Virginia to stand vigil with the miners’ families in those tense hours when rescue operations were still ongoing. For me, the lesson of the Upper Big Branch tragedy couldn’t be clearer: hazards are to be abated, mines are to be made safe and mine operators are to be held responsible for safety problems they do not fix. We owe nothing less than this strong commitment to the mining families of rural America.
- Posted byon June 9, 2011 at 11:23 AM EDT
This morning, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a White House Rural Council, the first entity of its kind established to focus on policy initiatives for Rural Americans. The President’s signature on this document represents a truly historic moment for the nation. I am honored to serve as the Chair of the Council and work directly with my Cabinet colleagues from across the federal government to improve the economic conditions and quality of life for millions of Rural Americans.
President Obama has already established an impressive record in rural areas, which the Rural Council will build on. The Administration’s record includes substantial investments in rural America to modernize our Nation’s infrastructure, provide broadband access to 10 million Americans, enhance energy independence, expand educational opportunities, and provide affordable health care. Nevertheless, the President believes that even more needs to be done in order to fully capitalize on the emerging opportunities in Rural America. Despite recent advances, rural communities continue to struggle to maintain the population and businesses needed for sustained economic growth.
- Posted byon April 29, 2011 at 5:58 PM EDT
Your quick look at the week that was on WhiteHouse.gov.
Eggs, Actors, and Athletes: The First Family celebrated Easter by hosting the 133rd White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday. 30,000 people from all 50 states and the District of Columbia got to attend, and were welcomed by a day chock full of special events and activities. This year's theme was "Get Up and Go," in keeping with the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative.
Helping Storm Victims in the South: Violent storms struck a number of southern states this week, leaving hundreds dead and thousands more with devastated homes and communities. The President directed recovery efforts from the White House, and traveled to Alabama with the First Lady to meet with families and recovery leaders. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in St. Louis to survey the damage done to the airport and city. FEMA posted online resources for helping recovery workers and victims.
- Posted byon April 21, 2011 at 2:06 PM EDT
As gasoline prices continue to rise across the country, USDA is working with farmers and entrepreneurs to secure our nation’s long-term energy future and give Americans more choices about where to spend their gas dollars: at home or abroad.
For the past two years, USDA has worked to support the research, investment, and infrastructure necessary to build a nationwide biofuels industry that creates jobs in every corner of the country.
USDA has a long history of helping Americans with their energy choices. Our Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) has helped thousands of rural businesses and farmers improve the efficiency of their equipment or produce their own renewable energy by installing solar panels or wind turbines.
Now we are helping people understand that this popular program can also help gas stations install special pumps to provide biofuels to motorists across the county.
- Posted byon April 8, 2011 at 7:02 PM EDT
Your quick look at the week that was on WhiteHouse.gov.
America's Secure Energy Future: President Obama continued his focus on building a clean energy economy with events throughout the week. He toured a shipping facility in Maryland with Energy Secretary Chu and Transportation Secretary LaHood to highlight his Green Fleet Initiative, then traveled to Philadelphia for a town hall at Gamesa Technology, a wind turbine manufacturer. Back at the White House, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar sat down with students to discuss development of clean, American-made energy sources. The Department of Energy blogged about Philadelphia's efforts to install energy efficient lighting.
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