Related Rural Blog Posts

  • A Rural Council Initiative – Creating Jobs and Building a Forest Restoration Economy

    Since the Rural Council was established last June, the Council has been a tremendous forum for discussing how to increase the focus on conservation work and create jobs in rural America. Here at the White House, we have been proud to work with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the recent report: “Increasing the Pace of Restoration and Job Creation on our National Forests” (USDA Restoration Report). The commitments we made in this report exemplify the progress we can achieve through the work of the Rural Council.

    America’s forests provide myriad goods and services for the American public: clean drinking water, habitat for wildlife and fish, timber, and jobs that generate opportunities to create rural wealth. We believe that increasing the pace of forest restoration is important to the economic prosperity of rural America. Accelerating the restoration of our National Forests will also help combat the threats of disease, pests, wildfires and climate change to our forests.     

    Our forests support rural economies through recreation, tourism, and the production of wood products and bioenergy. The forest restoration report calls for a 20 percent increase of treated forest acres over the next three years, which would increase forest products sold by the National Forests from 2.4 billion board feet in 2011 to 3 billion board feet no later than 2014. This increase will accomplish critical restoration objectives, support jobs and stimulate a more vibrant forest industry that will provide workers with the skills to undertake other restoration projects. Active management of the nation’s forests, and the forest products industry that supports sustainable actions, are vital to meeting these objectives. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program is an excellent example of how USDA works successfully in partnership with states, communities, tribes and private land owners and it is exciting to see opportunities ahead with the announcement of ten additional forest and watershed restoration projects for a total of twenty (CFLR projects in 2012).

    Accelerating restoration also will encourage an expanded market for wood products, including biomass utilization. The Forest Service is currently working with USDA on 12 Wood-to-Energy projects that will showcase how forest restoration and job creation go hand in hand. 

    The forest restoration strategy also advances the priorities of President Obama’s Americas Great Outdoors initiative by encouraging greater use and access to our public lands. We know there is a strong link between outdoor recreation and economic health. Currently, recreation activities on National Forest System lands alone contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy and support hundreds of thousands of jobs in local communities. Just last month, President Obama directed his Administration to craft a new national tourism strategy focused on creating jobs – and a key piece will be encouraging foreign tourists to visit national parks and national forests, which will benefit rural economies.   

    The Rural Council provides an excellent forum for advancing ideas to benefit rural America. The Council will support this effort to deliver results from the forest restoration report and as work progresses in building a forest restoration economy.

    Jay Jensen is Associate Director for Land and Water Ecosystems at the Council on Environmental Quality.

    Doug McKalip is Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.

  • Secretary Announces Refinancing Help for Rural USDA Home Loan Borrowers in Select States

    Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from the USDA Blog.

    Today, rural homeowners in 19 states across the nation are getting some much-needed and long-awaited help to cope with declining home values and a sluggish housing market.

    Secretary Vilsack announced today a pilot program to help rural borrowers with loans made or guaranteed by USDA refinance their mortgages to reduce their monthly payments. This initiative is part of the president’s on- going efforts to help middle class families, create jobs, and strengthen the economy. Since the Obama Administration took office three years ago, Secretary Vilsack has worked closely with the White House to ensure that rural Americans continue to enjoy the many benefits of homeownership.

    This is part of President Obama’s plan to help responsible homeowners.  In his recent State of the Union address, the President laid out a Blueprint for an America Built to Last, calling for action to help responsible borrowers and support a housing market recovery. While the government cannot fix the housing market on its own, the President believes that responsible homeowners should not have to sit and wait for the market to hit bottom to get relief when there are measures at hand that can make a meaningful difference, including allowing these homeowners to save thousands of dollars by refinancing at today’s low interest rates.

    Streamlined Refinancing for Rural America: USDA, which supports mortgage financing for thousands of rural families a year, is taking steps to further streamline its USDA-to-USDA refinancing program. This program is designed to provide those who currently have loans insured by the Department of Agriculture with a low-cost, streamlined process for refinancing into today’s low rates.

  • Twitter Office Hours Marathon: State of the Union

    Chris Lu Twitter Office Hours

    Chris Lu, Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, enjoys himself during his special State of the Union session of White House Office Hours. (by Joanna Zhang)

    This week, senior White House officials have been answering your questions about President Obama’s State of the Union Address through a series of Office Hours on Twitter. Miss the speech?  Visit Whitehouse.gov/SOTU to watch and learn more and then check out the full line up of engagement events below. 

     You can ask a question using the hashtag #WHChat and don’t forget to follow along with the conversation all day at @WHLive

     Missed a session? Click on the chat below to check out the full Q&A on Storify.

  • USDA's Blueprint for Stronger Service

    Ed note: This post was originally published on the USDA blog

    Yesterday at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 93rd Annual Meeting, I thanked about 10,000 farmers for helping to make U.S. agriculture a bright spot in our nation’s economy.

    In the past few decades, U.S. agriculture has become the second most productive sector of the American economy, thanks to farmers adopting technology, reducing debt, and effectively managing risk. In 2011, America’s farmers, ranchers and producers achieved record farm income, record exports, and have helped to contribute to an unemployment figure in rural America that has fallen faster than in other parts of the country. Over the last three years, as USDA has made significant investments in rural America, we have also looked closely at the way we do business so that we are sustaining and enhancing the farm economy for generations to come. That is why today I introduced USDA’s Blueprint for Stronger Service—a plan that will help to preserve this success in the long term. 

    The Blueprint for Stronger Service takes a realistic view of the needs of American agriculture in a challenging budget climate, and lays out USDA’s plans to modernize and accelerate service delivery while improving the customer experience through use of innovative technologies and business solutions. To manage the $3 billion—or 12 percent—reduction Congress has made to discretionary funding for the Department since 2010, USDA looked closely at the way we do business.  For example, some agencies put hiring controls in place and instituted early separation programs. These efforts, when coupled with regular retirement, meant nearly 7,000 employees have retired from USDA over the past 15 months. The plan is also part of the Administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste, launched by President Obama and Vice President Biden to make government work better and more efficiently for the American people. The end result is a plan that will create optimal use of USDA’s employees, better results for USDA customers, and greater efficiencies for American taxpayers.

  • Community Leaders Briefing Series – The ONE Campaign

    December 9, 2011 will forever remain ingrained in my memory. It happens to be the day I stepped in the White House and participated in my first White House Community Leaders Briefing Series with the ONE Campaign.

  • Regional Planning – Key to Rural Economic Strength

    Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from USDA.gov.

    Both of us grew up in small towns, Kathleen in Greenfield, MA and Bob in Ancram, NY.  From our own experiences, we understand the challenges and the importance of a strong rural economy.

    We recently visited Brevard, a town of about 6,000 people in North Carolina’s Transylvania County. While there we held a White House Rural Council meeting at the Transylvania County Library with leadership from the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, the regional economic development commission AdvantageWest, business leaders from Asheville and Brevard, and several local elected officials. We released a report from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities, at Brevard College, which focuses on how the federal government can help rural areas to be economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable.

    One theme that was discussed at the Rural Council roundtable was the need for communities to be solution oriented by setting priorities and realistic goals for the direction they want their region to head. In Transylvania County, about 1/6th of the residents used to work in the paper mill business, an industry that is no longer there. So the county is working within the region to figure out how they can build a sustainable community for the future, one that recognizes the great economic value of the water, farmland and forests in Western North Carolina.

    Participants asked about how communities can continue economic growth with declining Federal, state and local resources.  We spoke about the need for regional planners to get the right people around the table in order to create a clear vision in the community so that they can make the best use of Federal funding to form partnerships and leverage private sector development. Because ultimately, the economy in Brevard, like the small towns we grew up in, is linked to the rest of the region.