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USDA Broadband Report Highlights Role of the Recovery Act in Bringing Connectivity to Rural America

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

Today I released our first comprehensive report on USDA’s deployment of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for rural broadband.  It showed that the 68 investments we have already made will bring broadband access to an estimated 530,000 households, 93,000 businesses, and 3,300 anchor institutions like hospitals, schools, community centers and libraries.  They will create 5,000 jobs immediately. And they will cover an area larger than the state of California. Read more »

SNAP Crucial to Ending Hunger in America!

By Lisa Pino, Deputy Administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

As Deputy Administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), I’ve talked to many communities around the country about what more USDA can do to help people fight hunger and have greater access to healthy food. Although it’s been a year since I joined FNS, I remain humbled by the privilege of serving in a role where all of my time is spent helping others through the vehicle of SNAP. SNAP is truly a critical safety net to those in need, and it is by far our nation’s largest anti-hunger program as more than 40 million people a month receive SNAP assistance. Nevertheless, there is always more work to do as we are still not reaching millions of eligible people who could be served.

For this reason, our Southeast Regional Office (SERO) and I conducted a community round table in Miami, Florida to discuss with local leaders how to get more eligible people to participate on SNAP. Although SNAP is at an historic high as the economy continues to recover, too many SNAP eligible people are not on the program despite the benefit. The purpose of the community round table is to learn what barriers prevent their participation, and to identify ideas on how to open up access and improve participation to FNS programs especially among seniors, the working poor, and eligible Hispanics and immigrants. With my partners at the USDA Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, FNS regions like SERO have been doing tremendous work in coordinating community round tables in NJ, AZ, FL, and later this summer in CA and IL.

In Miami, our community round table was held at the Human Services Coalition where over 50 people, ranging from county partners, consulates, community organizations, and faith based organizations joined us. Earlier that morning I had also addressed a Florida ACCESS Community Partner Summit in Boca Raton attended by over 170 organizations. Community partners are critical in our mission to reach those in need and now act as that catalyst to help bridge the non-participating SNAP gap.

The next morning a big surprise occurred when I appeared on national television to talk about SNAP. Despierta America on Univision is the Spanish-language equivalent of Good Morning America, and my four minute interview resulted in almost one thousand calls to our bilingual SNAP call center alone. Later that morning I had the most fun visiting the Little Havana Activity and Nutrition Center, which provides seniors with every kind of help that you can imagine, from SNAP assistance to nutrition counseling to CACFP. As incredible as the Little Havana Center is though, everyone there works hard to have fun, which is so important as too many seniors live in isolation. For this reason, the Center includes daily performances from a retired professional pianist, popular exercise classes, an entire room dedicate to domino playing, and morning salsa. No, not as in the chips and dip kind, but live salsa music. So of course I had to join them on the dance floor, which they do every day as early as 9:00 AM!

Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino is interviewed on Univision’s national morning show, Despierta America.  (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).
Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino is interviewed on Univision’s national morning show, Despierta America.
(USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).

Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino talks with senior citizens as they play Cuban dominos at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center in Miami.   (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).
Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino talks with senior citizens as they play Cuban dominos at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center in Miami. (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).

Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino takes a break to dance with a senior citizen at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center in Miami.   (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).
Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino takes a break to dance with a senior citizen at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center in Miami.   (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).

FNS Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino (center),  USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Acting Deputy Director Julie Curti (left), and SERO Regional Administrator Donald Arnette (right), meet with local government leaders, hunger advocates, faith-based groups and community partners, June 3, during a roundtable in Miami.
FNS Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino (center),  USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Acting Deputy Director Julie Curti (left), and SERO Regional Administrator Donald Arnette (right), meet with local government leaders, hunger advocates, faith-based groups and community partners, June 3, during a roundtable in Miami.

Recovery Funds Deliver Advanced Broadband Services to South Texans

Written by Katie Yocum, USDA Rural Development, with assistance from Gayle Cargo, Texas Rural Development Public Information Coordinator

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where hurricanes are known to ravage the coastline, temperatures regularly hit the triple digits and a trip to “town” can put over 200 miles on the odometer, Valley Telephone Cooperative, Inc. (VTCI) provides telecommunications services to a rural, culturally diverse population.  Since 1999, VTCI has provided its customer base with world-class broadband connectivity, but neighboring communities outside their service area languished without access to any broadband services.  But now, funding through the Broadband Initiatives Program, authorized through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will enable VTCI to bring first-rate broadband connectivity to those under-served communities via a fiber-based and fixed wireless infrastructure.

VTCI, through its subsidiary VTX Telecom, will provide advanced broadband services to eleven underserved communities in South Texas Plains, offering access to over 19,000 homes, 778 businesses and 196 key community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and public safety institutions.

Almost all of the communities to be served by the new broadband technology are weighed down by high unemployment and persistent poverty.  In the rural town of Raymondville, Texas, more than one-third of the residents live below the poverty line.

Staff from he University of Texas-Pan American Cooperative Center spent more than a month traveling the South Texas neighborhoods, conducting interviews and compiling information for the company to use in applying for the funds. That research helped make the application for the financial assistance more competitive, said George Bennack, associate director of business development for UTPA’s Business Development Centers.

The announcement of the funding award was made in April at an event attended by Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez.  “Expanding broadband capabilities to these rural locales will provide opportunities for existing businesses to grow and new ones to move to the area, as well as making education available for students,” said Vasquez.

Improved access to advanced broadband services will offer rural residents, like those of Raymondville, an opportunity to pursue higher education online, search for employment, or to connect their small or home-based business to the national and global markets.  And beyond the many benefits that broadband access deliver, VTCI estimates that the construction of this project will create or save roughly 160 jobs, which will have a more immediate positive economic impact on the South Texas Plains region.  To learn more about this and other  broadband projects funded by USDA click here.

Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez (left) announces funding support to bring broadband technology to a portion of rural Texas.
Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez (left) announces funding support to bring
broadband technology to a portion of rural Texas.