White House Rural Council Blog

  • StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative Expands

    Last week, I visited Pine Mountain State Park in southeastern Kentucky, along with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers, to announce the expansion of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative  into three new Appalachian states—Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia—and one state in the Delta region, Louisiana.

    I believe that USDA and its partners have the tools to expand opportunity and better serve those living in persistent poverty in rural America. Our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative, which helped to inform President Obama's recently-announced Promise Zones, is about doing just that—rallying available tools and technical assistance and targeting these resources to the areas where they are needed most.

    Through StrikeForce, we’ve partnered with more than 400 community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support 80,300 projects and ushered more than $9.7 billion in investments into rural America. Expanding StrikeForce support to these four additional states will help leverage USDA resources with the unique expertise of community leaders, business, foundations and other groups working in rural Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.

    President Obama has also recognized the unique challenges of rural poverty with his new Promise Zone initiative. For example, in addition to receiving StrikeForce support, the Kentucky Highlands in southeastern Kentucky has also been targeted as a Promise Zone area. Promise Zones are part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities, faith-based organizations, foundations, and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety. 

  • Introducing the National Drought Resilience Partnership

    Today, the Obama Administration is excited to announce a new partnership between seven Federal agencies that will help communities better prepare for droughts and reduce the impact of drought events on families and businesses. The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Federal agencies are already working with communities, businesses and farmers and ranchers to build resilience to drought on the ground, and this Partnership will enhance those efforts.

    Droughts are not new to many communities.  Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, storms, floods, and wildfires nationwide.  About two-thirds of the continental United States was affected by drought in 2012, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy and fisheries, costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion and causing $1 billion in losses from wildfires.  During this disaster, the Administration provided all available assistance to towns, communities and agricultural producers impacted by drought, and the 2012 drought also highlighted effective planning and preparedness is to helping communities recover and prevent the worst impacts. We heard directly from states, tribes, businesses, and local communities that there was a need for a more accessible “front door” to make it easier to access Federal assistance. That is why the National Drought Resilience Partnership is designed to provide communities with a single point of contact to help them navigate various Federal programs to find the right one for their needs.

    Spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the immediate focus of the Partnership will be on creating a new, web-based portal to ease access to Federal agency drought resources, hosting more frequent regional drought outlook forums to continue to hear directly from communities, and supporting the coordination of a national soil moisture monitoring network to help improve monitoring and forecasting drought conditions. In collaboration with local, state and regional governments, the Partnership will also undertake a pilot project in a western area hard hit by drought to create a local-scale drought resilience plan that could be applied in other areas.  

    This Partnership reflects the work of the White House Rural Council, and it also follows the President’s November 2013 Executive Order on preparing our communities for the impacts of climate change.  That Executive Order created a Task Force of state, local and tribal leaders to advise the Administration on steps the Federal Government can take to help communities increase preparedness, and committed Federal agencies to examining their programs and policies to make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes. 

    As we face increasing challenges from severe weather and climate impacts, it is more important than ever that Federal agencies work together effectively and efficiently to support the needs of local communities.  The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is another important step in our commitment to helping communities stay strong and resilient in the face of climate change. 

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • An Update on the White House Rural Council

    Ed. Note: This blog post was originally published by the Department of Agriculture

    Since the White House Rural Council was formed in 2009, our members from across the Federal government have taken a renewed look at many critical programs and services that impact rural residents, with an overarching goal to ensure that Federal agencies are collaborating to achieve the greatest possible benefit in rural America.

    Today, I hosted a meeting of the White House Rural Council where we continued our focus on shared efforts to better serve rural America – from conservation, to veterans’ services, to rural development, to support for American agriculture and more. 

    Today’s meeting included a special focus on expanding rural access to health care.  Rural Americans face unique barriers with regard to health care services, and new investments in medical facilities, expanded information technology and stronger veterans’ health care services can help meet these challenges.

    While we look forward to a number of announcements in the weeks and months to come that are intended to strengthen rural health care capacity, the Department of Health and Human Services made two key announcements today in partnership with the White House Rural Council.

    First, HHS announced that tomorrow, $4 million will be awarded through its Rural Health Information Technology Program to recruit, educate, train and retain health IT specialists in rural America. These awards will allow 15 organizations across the nation to train more healthcare workers in the specialized technology needed to better manage records and deliver remote services in rural America.  As these services are expanded, more folks in rural areas will see streamlined management of health care records. Service will be more efficient. And it will be easier for specialists to help provide remote consultations through innovative new technology.

  • Collaborating to Deliver Healthcare, Education, and Outreach to the Mississippi Delta

    Sergeant Alexander Benton, of the 7214th MSU Troop Medical Clinic Detachment

    Sergeant Alexander Benton, of the 7214th MSU Troop Medical Clinic Detachment out of Garden Grove, CA, draws blood from a patient for lab tests in Blytheville, AR. (Photo credit by Sgt. David Thomas, 7229 MSU JBLM out of Washington)

    For the fifth year in a row, the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a White House Rural Council member, is partnering with the Department of Defense (DOD) to provide rural health care via the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. Working in the Mississippi Delta Region, where today 20 percent of the population is uninsured, this summer’s missions are taking on a new role by educating communities about the new and affordable coverage options that the Affordable Care Act is making available beginning in 2014.

    Since 2009, IRT has brought military medical personnel in-training to underserved communities of the Delta region to provide free medical care to residents. DRA plays the vital role of guiding communities through the application, planning, and implementation processes. During the past four years, military reserve forces have provided general medical care, optical care, dental care, veterinary services, nutritional education, mental health care, and other support services to 24,000 Delta residents at ten sites across three states. And this summer, DRA and DOD are projected to reach an additional 20,000 patients in eleven communities across six states of the Delta – their most extensive outreach in the region to date.

    Take the Hope of Martin medical mission in Martin, TN, where troops from the Navy Reserves, Air Force Reserves, and Air National Guard provided free health care services valued at more than $700,000 to more than 3,250 residents of western Tennessee. Along with immediate care, DRA has partnered with another White House Rural Council member, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services, to help DRA as it educates and connect patients to new health insurance options that will help them access affordable coverage long after the IRT mission is complete.

    Another example is the Delta Medical Mission, which saw 5,771 patients and provided 10,000 resource cards at five sites over the month of July. And just this week, Army reservists were deployed to four communities in Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee for the Four State Medical mission as well as to Ferriday, Louisiana, for the Louisiana Medical program. In just three days, this mission has seen 1,400 patients.

    Every patient served can mean a life changed. In Martin, TN, residents began lining up for services as early as 2 a.m. One man, so nervous to see a dentist that he was allowed to keep his dog in his lap, had tooth extractions that were years overdue. Another man was found in a hallway later in the day crying because, as he explained, with his new glasses – made on-site – “it was the first time he had been able to see the world.”

    The success of IRT is a testament to interagency collaboration facilitated by the work of the White House Rural Council and reaffirming President Obama’s commitment to rural America.

    Dr. Mary Wakefield is the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services. Chris Masingill is the Federal Co-Chairman for the Delta Regional Authority. Doug McKalip is the Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council.

  • FFA State Presidents ‘Suit Up’ for Agriculture

    Ed Note: Yesterday, Secretary Vilsack had the opportunity to speak with some of our nation’s brightest young leaders at the National FFA Organization’s State Presidents’ Conference. He discussed USDA’s efforts to revitalize the rural economy and recognized the officers for their commitment to leadership, personal growth and career success. Below is a blog post submitted to USDA by Clay Sapp, 2012-13 National FFA President. You can find the original post here.

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at a meeting of the White House Rural Council

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at a meeting of the White House Rural Council to an audience of the National State President’s Conference of the FFA on Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Secretary Vilsack took questions from the audience and discussed international, national and agricultural production topics with the FFA State President’s. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

    This week is the National FFA Organization’s 2013 State Presidents’ Conference (SPC) in Washington, D.C. At SPC, state FFA officers are exposed to new ideas, meet new people and expand their perspectives as they sharpen their advocacy skills for tomorrow. Two officers from each state, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are represented at this year’s conference, which carries the theme, “Suit up.”

    At SPC, state officers undergo intense leadership training and develop a solid understanding of partner relationships. Their training is used to gather grassroots student input from across the nation on the future of FFA and agriculture education.

    On Wednesday, our state officers were able to learn about key issues facing rural America, agriculture and education during a White House Rural Council meeting. We heard from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, executive director of Let’s Move and senior policy advisor on nutrition Sam Kass and senior policy advisor for rural affairs Doug McKalip.

  • Supporting Military Readiness and Training through Environmental Conservation

    Last week, the Obama Administration announced a new federal, local, and private sector collaboration that will preserve agricultural lands and restore and protect wildlife habitat, all while helping to sustain military readiness. 

    Known as the “Sentinel Landscapes” partnership, the effort is kicking off with a pilot at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, an important training facility for our troops in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State, and home to some of the last remaining native prairie habitat for wildlife in the state. 

    This unique convergence of landscapes comes with unique challenges. Namely, as development comes closer and closer to the base, at-risk species in the area take refuge in the only land that can’t be developed, the military base itself. The presence of these species can then bring restrictions to the base’s ability to engage in certain training activities.

    In a unique collaboration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the Department of Defense will work together and with private landowners and state and local partners, including the non-profit Center for Natural Lands Management, to preserve and restore habitat around the base to ensure at-risk species can survive, while also improving military readiness by ensuring training activities can proceed unimpeded.