When you woke up this morning, chances are you turned on a light, took a shower in your bathroom, brushed your teeth with running water and checked the Internet. For too many people in Indian Country, this simple daily process is currently unattainable. Services most Americans take for granted are not always available in Indian Country.
Last week, I joined other USDA officials in attending the National Congress of American Indians Convention in Lincoln, Nebraska. I discussed all of the remarkable progress that USDA and Secretary Vilsack have made when it comes to supporting Native Americans, especially those who live on reservations or trust areas.
One substantial achievement, announced earlier this month, will make it much easier for Tribes to gain access to USDA funding for water and sewer improvement projects, electrical system upgrades and telecommunications services including broadband. A new rule, authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, gives the Secretary the authority to clear away hurdles that have blocked Tribes from making necessary improvements to infrastructure. The Rule authorizes loans at interest rates of as little as two percent, gives “Substantially Underserved Trust” areas a higher priority, and empowers Tribal leadership to move forward.
In addition to thanking Secretary Vilsack for his support, I want to thank the Rural Development mission area, and especially Deputy Administrator Jessica Zufolo, Assistant Administrator David Villano and Dr. Gary Bojes with the Rural Utilities Service. They worked tirelessly with the Tribes on a government-to-government basis, and conducted an unprecedented series of tribal consultation and outreach meetings to ensure that everyone affected by this new rule had a seat at the table.