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Aggressively Fighting Fraud in the SNAP Program

USDA is serious about good stewardship of tax payer dollars and is doing its part to support the Obama Administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste. That means, among other things, making sure Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are used by recipients and retailers the way the program was intended.

USDA has just issued a final regulation that updates the legal definition of trafficking. Put simply, recipients of SNAP benefits can now be kicked out of the program for indirectly obtaining cash for benefits.  This includes activities like so-called “water dumping,” which involves the purchasing of beverages in deposit containers, wasting the contents, and returning the containers for the cash deposit.  Such actions undermine this important program and will not be tolerated. Read more »

Inspiring Recovery

Deputy Secretary Merrigan surveys produce being grown by urban farmers in New Orleans.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan surveys produce being grown by urban farmers in New Orleans.

Earlier this week, I traveled to New Orleans with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan to meet with the local farming and fishing community. What I saw at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation (MQVN) was inspirational. Read more »

Energy Department and USDA Partner to Support Energy Efficiency in Rural Communities

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, state energy and extension staff are teaching farmers to use modern sensors to improve irrigation management. In this picture, Darrel Siekman and Gary Zoubek install Watermark Sensors and a data logger. | Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, state energy and extension staff are teaching farmers to use modern sensors to improve irrigation management. In this picture, Darrel Siekman and Gary Zoubek install Watermark Sensors and a data logger. | Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska.

Cross posted from the Department of Energy blog:

Each year, urban households in the U.S. combined use more than three times the total energy that America’s rural households do. Yet, the Energy Information Administration estimates that rural families spend about $400 more per year in energy bills compared to the typical urban household. Unlocking new opportunities to save energy will help rural Americans save money, while improving our energy security, creating jobs and protecting our air and water. Read more »

SNAP Remains a Safety Net for Veterans and Families in Need

Cross posted from the disability.gov blog:

Today, I was thinking about the last entry I wrote for Disability.gov’s blog just about a year ago and considering our accomplishments in 2012 and the opportunities that are ahead for 2013.

The need for food assistance remained high in 2012, with an average of 47 million people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) every month. Program participation increased in response to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana and Hurricane Sandy in the New England states. However, overall the program grew at a slower rate and even flattened toward the end of the year. SNAP continues to be the cornerstone of the national hunger safety net by helping those in need put healthy food on the table. Read more »

USDA Funding Helps Reopen a Town’s Only Grocery Store

Recently, Rural Cooperative Development funding helped to reopen a local Nebraska grocery store.  The story goes like this.

The loss of a grocery store in a rural community can be a devastating blow, especially when it is the only, or at least major, source of local groceries. Not only do people then have to travel farther and expend more time and money to get their groceries, but it can also make it difficult on community pride and make it harder to attract new residents and businesses.

When the only grocery store in Elwood, Neb., closed in January of 2012, community leaders quickly responded, organizing a community meeting to consider opening a cooperatively owned grocery store. Jim Crandall of the UNL Nebraska Cooperative Development Center (NCDC), which receives funding from USDA Rural Development’s Rural Cooperative Development Grants, was the primary speaker at this first meeting to explain the concept of community ownership as a cooperative. The meeting attracted more than 100 people, almost all of whom felt that a grocery store was vital to the future of their community. Prior to and following the initial meeting, community leaders developed and distributed a survey to gauge interest in opening a co-op grocery store. The community response showed widespread support for the concept. A committed, hard-working steering committee was formed to begin the process of studying the feasibility of a grocery store, the cooperative business model, and creating pro-forma financials. Read more »

National Forest in New Mexico Hosts Tough Quadrathlon

During the warmer months the Cibola National Forest has many mountain bike trails and riding areas such as the Big Rock area. The Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership proposes to develop a network of interconnected mountain bike and hiking trails in the Zuni Mountains. (Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership photo)

During the warmer months the Cibola National Forest has many mountain bike trails and riding areas such as the Big Rock area. The Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership proposes to develop a network of interconnected mountain bike and hiking trails in the Zuni Mountains. (Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership photo)

The  annual winter quadrathlon, staged on the Cibola National Forest and Grasslands, is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s so challenging that race organizers post a training program that starts more than three months prior to the event.

Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon athletes must:
·      finish a 13-mile bike ride,
·      complete a 5-mile run on a gravel road that climbs 1,250-feet in elevation,
·      go two miles on cross-country skis for another 1,250-foot climb, and
·      go one mile on snowshoes to gain another 600 feet to reach the 11,301-foot summit of Mt. Taylor. Read more »