White House Rural Council Blog

  • “Someday” is Now: Direct Farm Payments and the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction

    For nearly two decades, I have served in agriculture policy capacities for the federal government – most of those years with the United States Department Agriculture.  Today, I am reminded of a quote by Will Rogers.  The outspoken Oklahoman once remarked, “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.”  Instead, Rogers made so many Americans laugh during some of the most difficult times in the history of rural America, sometimes pointing out irony in the activities of government.

    Today marks a truly historic action, as President Obama proposes dramatic, yet common sense reform to what has become over the years, a product of conventional politics and longstanding irony in the landscape of government.  As part of the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction announced today, President Obama is proposing to terminate direct farm subsidies.  At nearly $5 billion in funding per year, the Direct Payments program is certainly no laughing matter.  And if a vegetable were ever developed per the Rogers quote above, it wouldn’t qualify for direct payments, because vegetables are not deemed to be “program crops”. (more on that in a moment)  

    As the lead advisor on rural issues for the President’s Domestic Policy Council, some will ask me “why advocate for the reduction of an agriculture program?”  In short, I believe the President’s proposal seeks to establish new policy that has been long overdue, and takes action that conventional thinking would regard as either too difficult, or too controversial.

  • Mobilizing Rural Communities: Partnerships and Outreach in Montana

    This week, I served as keynote speaker for a special conference in Great Falls, Montana, convened by Rural Dynamics Incorporated.  The theme of the conference  was “Mobilizing Rural Communities” and included participants representing a host of private, public, and non-profit participants.  It has been less than three months since President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the first White House Rural Council.  The Great Falls conference provided an opportunity to connect with many great folks from the Northern Plains Region, who are working on a daily basis on local projects and local partnerships to further the economic development and vitality of rural areas.

    The group was very interested to learn more about the work of the White House Rural Council.  We discussed President Obama’s priority of ensuring that rural areas have additional opportunities for economic investment and available working capital.  We also discussed the need for innovation in the areas of high-speed Internet, renewable energy opportunities, as well as enhancements in education and health care.  Topics involving natural resource-related business enterprises, public works, and forestry – all key focus areas for the White House Rural Council—were also discussed.

  • Rural America and The President's Jobs Plan

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the USDA Blog.

    Last night, I went to the Capitol to hear the President address Congress about the way forward to grow the economy and create jobs.
     
    There is no doubt that these have been tough times.  And it’s very tough for the many Americans who are looking for work.  So we’ve got to keep finding ways to help the unemployed in the short term and rebuild the middle class over the long term.
     
    The American Jobs Act that President Obama laid out this evening will have an immediate impact.  It will create jobs now.  And it is based on bipartisan ideas that both Democrats and Republicans have supported in the past. 
     
    Americans living in rural communities know well that the specific ideas in the bill work.

  • Treasury Announces Awards to Benefit Low-Income and Distressed Native Communities

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from Treasury Notes, the Department of the Treasury blog.

    Building upon last month’s announcement of $142 million in awards for distressed communities – the single largest round of awards in the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund’s history – yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting with a national gathering of Native CDFIs in Honolulu, HI where I announced an additional $11.85 million in awards expressly for financial institutions serving Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities.

    That money, made under the fiscal year 2011 round of Treasury’s Native American CDFI Assistance Program (NACA Program), will go to 35 organizations with a primary mission of serving low-income and distressed Native communities in 17 states (pdf), the majority of them in rural areas.  Of the 35, seven organizations serving Native Hawaiian communities will receive awards that will allow them to increase lending services, start new microloan programs and increase their capacity to serve their target markets.

  • Rural Tour Day Two: Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa

    Peosta, Iowa

    After a full day spent talking and listening to Americans at town halls in Cannon Falls, Minnesota and Decorah, Iowa yesterday, this morning the President's economic bus tour pulls into Peosta, Iowa for the White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College. President Obama and members of his Cabinet will meet with private sector leaders, farmers and small business owners to discuss ideas to grow the economy, accelerate hiring and spur innovation in small towns across the country.

    The focus of the forum is how we can create good jobs that put more Americans back to work, and President Obama will announce new job initiatives for rural America that will do just that. The initiatives will include recommendations from the White House Rural Council that include helping small businesses in rural areas access capital, expanding rural job search and training services and increasing rural access to health care workers and technology.

    Watch President Obama's opening remarks at 12:50 p.m. EDT and closing remarks at 3:30 p.m. EDT on WhiteHouse.gov/live to learn more about the President's plan to create jobs in small cities and towns across America.

  • Rural Veterans and the Tyranny of Distance

    At the Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Shinseki often talks about the tyranny of distance – the distance that often separates Veterans from care at their nearest VA medical facilities. For about 3.3 million Vets, or 41 percent of the total enrolled in VA’s health care system, distance is more than a challenge. Distance can mean rural Veterans don’t have access to the care and services they’ve earned. 

    Secretary Shinseki made it clear – this summer, he wanted to hear from Veterans in the hardest to reach places. “I know from previous experience that sitting in Washington with a 2,000-mile screwdriver trying to fine tune things at the local level never works,” he said. So, we hit the road to learn firsthand.

    Link to photo gallery, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki Listening and Talking Tour.

    From the plains of North Dakota and Montana to the isolated island of Guam, Veterans from rural areas talked with Secretary Shinseki about what’s working and what the department can do better. To many Veterans, it was clear VA has shifted its approach to be more accessible. But we also quickly learned that standard definitions like “urban, rural, and highly rural” may not be exact enough.  Often, “remote, extreme rural, and inaccessible” is more accurate. 

    The “inaccessible” category would definitely include Kwigillingok, Alaska, or Kwig, located in the far reaches of Central Yup’ik near the Bering Sea.  On Memorial Day, Secretary Shinseki visited Kwig to meet and honor living members of the Alaska Territorial Guard, who served bravely during World War II.  No roads lead to Kwig, so the trip wasn’t easy.  We hopped on a flight in Anchorage, and connected in the small town of Bethel – about 1,000 miles roundtrip. When we finally landed on the dirt landing strip in Kwig, villagers on all-terrain vehicles appeared from all over to give us rides to the village center.