Rural America faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to combating poverty in our towns and communities. Too often, rural people and places are hard to reach or otherwise underserved—but not forgotten.
I believe that USDA and its partners have the tools and the wherewithal to expand opportunity and better serve those living in poverty, but it is imperative that these resources reach the areas where they are needed most.
That is why USDA has undertaken a broad commitment to rally available tools and technical assistance through our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative.
Since its launch in 2010, we’ve extended StrikeForce into more than 700 rural counties, parishes, boroughs, tribal reservations, and Colonias in twenty states. We’ve partnered with over 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.
This week, we took our efforts a step further by expanding StrikeForce into three new Appalachian states—Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia—and one state in the Delta region, Louisiana.
StrikeForce support will help leverage USDA resources with the unique expertise of community leaders, business, foundations and other groups working in Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia. In less than four years, we are seeing promising positive results from this model in other StrikeForce states.
For example, in Arizona, we helped an entrepreneur start a successful apiary business for crop pollination and honey sales. Thanks to USDA assistance, he was able to purchase 1,000 bee colonies and needed equipment, eventually growing his business by 200 percent.
In Alabama, we provided a loan to help a young farmer purchase a 53-acre farm for his existing cattle operation. This support allowed him to purchase his own land as opposed to renting or leasing.
And in Alaska, we helped to fund a primary care center that will create 200 jobs from entry level to skilled healthcare workers, in addition to construction jobs. The clinic will provide services to the local community including primary medical and dental care, behavioral health, optometry, health education wellness and traditional medicine.
These are just a few of our StrikeForce success stories. From increasing access to healthy, affordable food; to closing farm loans; to building housing, libraries, hospitals and clinics; to expanding the productivity of our farmers and ranchers, we are working hard to ensure that USDA programs are available and accessible to those in need.
Yet many of our efforts to combat poverty and create opportunity in rural America rely on the passage of a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. USDA continues to push for Congress to finish the work of a Farm Bill as soon as possible to continue these important efforts and provide tools that grow the economy, create jobs, and provide opportunity for all Americans.
I know that there is still a lot of work to be done, but StrikeForce is an important step forward. This is a strategy that is working to combat poverty in rural America, and we will continue to build on these efforts to bring assistance to areas that need it the most.