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Earned Income Tax Credit Can Help Rural Families

Thanks to the hard work of Rural Americans, along with record investments in infrastructure under the Recovery Act and the 2014 Farm Bill, over the last seven years America was able to pull itself out of one of the deepest economic recessions since the Great Depression.  While we’ve seen wages rise and unemployment fall in rural areas over the last several years, workers in rural America still receive less hours and earn less pay than those in urban areas. Fortunately, for those who need help making ends meet, the Earned Income Tax Credit can help.

For the last 40 years, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has made life better for millions of workers across the United States. The average amount of EITC received by families last year was more than $2,400. These are dollars for working families and individuals that can make all the difference in helping pay for transportation, housing, school supplies or other critical needs.  If your family or someone you know earned less than $53,267 from wages, running a business or farm, or from Form 1099 MISC, check out the IRS EITC website or talk to your tax preparer to determine whether you are eligible. Read more »

Navajo Nation Highlights the Value of the Environmental Justice

Arthur “Butch” Blazer and colleagues on a tour of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona

Arthur “Butch” Blazer and colleagues on a tour of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona led by Michelle Curry. Diné College is a community college serving the Navajo Nation

I recently traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit with local Navajo government leaders, Tribal College officials, and community members to hear about life on the Navajo Reservation. Michael Burns, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was also there to discuss an important new collaboration, the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP).

CUPP develops partnerships between underserved communities and geographically close colleges and universities to provide technical support through faculty, students and staff at no cost to those communities. One of my top priorities is for USDA to help EPA expand the CUPP program to involve Tribal communities and colleges to advance the cause of environmental justice. Read more »

50 Years of Super Bowl and Food Safety Changes

Super Bowl party food

Celebrate Super Bowl 50 by looking at how food safety has changed over the past 50 years.

The Super Bowl is a very popular food “holiday” in the United States, and this year’s game marks a milestone. Super Bowl 50, dubbed the “Golden Super Bowl,” will be played on February 7, 2016.

Help set the gold standard and ensure that you and your guests remain free of foodborne illness by following four steps to food safety. Read more »

A Community for Agricultores in Puerto Rico

Dianilda Rodriguez of GR Management Corp., Arlene Zambrana from USDA Rural Development, and Maria Rodriquez-Collazo of PathStone standing in front of the completed Alturas de Castañer housing complex

Dianilda Rodriguez of GR Management Corp., Arlene Zambrana from USDA Rural Development, and Maria Rodriquez-Collazo of PathStone stand in front of the completed Alturas de Castañer housing complex in Puerto Rico.

In the municipality of Lares, Puerto Rico, lies Alturas de Castañer, a small, mountainous community that is home to 24 agricultores and their families. The agricultores – or farm workers – work hard year-round to produce coffee, bananas, root vegetables and citrus fruits that are then sold in local markets and to area restaurants.

Before coming to the community of Alturas de Castañer, many families lived in cramped conditions, sometimes with two or three other families.  Conditions were unsanitary and children were constantly sick.  Some homes did not even have roofs, and residents suffered dangerous exposure to the natural elements, including torrential rains during hurricane season. Read more »

Una Comunidad Para Agricultores en Puerto Rico

Dianilda Rodriguez de GR Management Corp., Arlene Zambrana de la Oficina de Desarrollo Rural de USDA y Maria Rodriquez-Collazo de PathStone frente al complejo de vivienda de Alturas de Castañer

Dianilda Rodriguez de GR Management Corp., Arlene Zambrana de la Oficina de Desarrollo Rural de USDA y Maria Rodriquez-Collazo de PathStone frente al complejo de vivienda de Alturas de Castañer en Puerto Rico.

En el municipio de Lares, Puerto Rico, se encuentra Alturas de Castañer, una comunidad en las montañas donde viven 24 agricultores y sus familias. Los agricultores trabajan arduamente durante todo el año para producir café, plátanos, viandas y frutas cítricas que luego se venden en los mercados locales y a los restaurantes en la zona.

Antes de llegar a la comunidad de Alturas de Castañer, muchas familias vivían en espacios estrechos, a veces con dos o tres otras familias. Las condiciones eran insalubres y los niños estaban constantemente enfermos. Algunos hogares ni siquiera tenían techo y los residentes estaban peligrosamente expuestos a los elementos de la naturaleza, como las lluvias torrenciales durante la temporada de huracanes. Read more »

Looking Ahead: Adding Seats to the Table to Diversify the Agricultural Workforce

USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden with ADM Chief Human Resources Officer Mike D’Ambrose and students Nicole Ashley Holden and Dara Robertson at the Agriculture Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden with ADM Chief Human Resources Officer Mike D’Ambrose and students Nicole Ashley Holden and Dara Robertson at the Agriculture Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

From the field to the fork, we need diversity in agriculture.  I’m proud to say that here at USDA, we are doing our part to make sure young people have access to the wide array of opportunities available. Over the next five years, we can expect to see an average of 57,900 jobs become available annually in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment. However, only 35,400 students will graduate with the specialized degrees and expertise to fill those jobs, leaving 39 percent to be filled by young people with talent in other areas. We need to expand the talent pool and change the dialogue to show agriculture as an attractive, meaningful career path.

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable discussion with leaders from industry, higher education, and the nonprofit sector to share best practices on how we can come together to grow a diverse pipeline of talent for U.S. agriculture. Together, we were able to discuss what’s working, and where we can improve to create opportunities for young people of all backgrounds to ultimately strengthen the ag workforce. Read more »