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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.

USDA Utilities Administrator Highlights the Importance of Bringing Broadband to Rural America

Written by Jonathan Adelstein, Administrator, Rural Utilities Service

I traveled to Philadelphia today to join the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) for their 2010 national forum. We partner with CFC to finance electric cooperatives across rural America. It was a chance to talk about the progress USDA has made over the last 75 years toward rural electrification, and how we are on the frontlines again to bring access to high speed broadband to rural America.

In 1935, our agency was challenged to bring affordable electricity to millions of farms, ranches and homes in rural America. Today we face a similar challenge with deployment of broadband.

Rural Utilities Service (RUS), the agency I oversee, has been working with national partners such as the CFC to advance new policies and programs to develop and invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and smart grid technology.  Integrated into our strategy is deployment of broadband.  The Congress and President Obama included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to jump start this effort.  To date, we have committed investment of more than $1 billion for 68 rural broadband infrastructure projects in 32 states.  That means over 500,000 households, 97,000 businesses and 3,300 anchor institutions will see the way they do business dramatically change – new opportunities for emerging markets, better access to health care and education.

Successful applicants include electric cooperative borrowers such as the Consolidated Electric Cooperative, who was selected for a loan-grant combination of over $2 million to construct a 166-mile middle mile network that will bring major city connectivity into underserved areas of North Central Ohio.  It’ll provide badly needed connectivity for key community facilities and wireless internet service providers.  It will also connect all of Consolidated’s substations to support its smart grid technology initiative.

This is exactly what we like to see – expanded broadband connectivity combined with sustainable, smart grid technology – delivered to rural America.  It is this kind of leveraging between our electric and telecommunications program delivery that will help our cooperative partners offer key energy efficiency tools to residential consumers so that they can monitor their usage and reduce their monthly electricity costs.

These critical broadband investments will help keep the United States at the center of innovation, and they will bring greater job opportunities to our rural communities.  It is the link to long-term sustainable economic growth that our rural communities so urgently need.

A Ray of Sun for Peanut Allergy Sufferers

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

By Tara T. Weaver-Missick, Chief, Information Products and Services Branch, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that more than 3 million people in the United States report being allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or both.  Those allergic have symptoms ranging from a mild case of hives to severe anaphylactic shock.

USDA researchers at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La., in collaboration with Red River Commodities, a major sunflower seed producer based in Fargo, ND, developed a process for making a sunflower butter product that resembles the flavor, texture and appearance of commercially available peanut butter – without the allergic reaction.

Red River Commodities came to USDA-ARS scientists for their processing expertise. The scientists were able to solve a major obstacle in processing the product after discovering that improper roasting results in poor texture, flavor and appearance.

Red River Commodities created SunGold Foods, Inc., a company dedicated to commercializing the sunflower product SunButter®.  As a result, 25 new jobs were created in rural America.

The product is now available in a variety of flavors (creamy, organic unsweetened, natural, natural crunch and natural omega-3) and sizes, including new “go packs” designed for school lunches and on-the-go snacking. The product is being sold to some of the largest U.S. food companies and retailers, such as Kroger, SuperValu, Walmart, Target and Whole Foods, and recently through the QVC network. It can also be purchased on line at http://www.sunbutter.com.

Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, zinc and iron. SunButter® is currently being used in a variety of foods as an added ingredient, including energy bars and a no-peanut peanut sauce.  SunButter® is an entitlement item and is thus part of the food commodities list for the USDA National School Lunch Program.  This technology will increase the value of U.S. sunflower seeds, boosting profitability for U.S. sunflower farmers.

Sunbutter, developed by USDA scientists from sunflower, resembles the flavor, texture and appearance of commercially available peanut butter.
Sunbutter, developed by USDA scientists from sunflower, resembles the flavor, texture
and appearance of commercially available peanut butter.

[Mention of trade names or commercial products in this report is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

First USDA Agribusiness Trade Mission to Iraq Arrives in Baghdad

By Dan Berman, Senior Advisor to the Administrator, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service

What comes to your mind when you think of Iraq? Like many, my perceptions were created by years of media reporting. On Saturday, I arrived in Baghdad in a Blackhawk helicopter, and am still processing my feelings of heartbreak and inspiration. Yesterday I was honored to open the first U.S. agribusiness trade mission to Iraq in more than 20 years. At the opening plenary session, nearly 20 U.S. companies and more than 150 Iraqi entrepreneurs and buyers were present, as well as U.S. and Iraqi government officials.  The U.S. companies on the mission are both large and small, representing commodity, consumer-ready food, and forest product industries, as well as agricultural input suppliers, including agricultural equipment and irrigation system manufacturers.

The purpose of this trade mission is simple: to increase U.S. agricultural exports to Iraq, promote joint ventures, and boost investment in Iraq’s developing agricultural sector. Over two days, U.S. and Iraqi producers, processors, buyers, traders, and investors will meet face-to-face in dozens of one-on-one meetings. In these meetings business will be conducted, ideas will be exchanged, and friendships will be forged. The courage and optimism of all the participants cannot be overstated. We hope this mission will be looked back on as a turning point in our relationship. As Ambassador Christopher Hill said in the opening address, we hope we will move from America being represented by General Petraeus and General Odierno, to General Foods and General Mills.

Agriculture is an important part of Iraq’s economy.  It is the country’s second largest economic sector, accounting for 9.6 percent of its gross domestic product and employing about 20 percent of its labor force. The country’s farmers produce wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates, cotton, livestock, and poultry.  But, with Iraq’s population expected to nearly double in the next 25 years, agricultural imports, including those produced by Iraqi farmers plus edible oils, pulses, and a variety of consumer-ready products, are needed to feed the country’s growing urban middle class and low-income consumers.  In addition, Iraq has vast natural resources and great potential to further boost agricultural productivity and output of a broad array of farm products. What it needs are agricultural inputs, such as seeds, feed, and machinery to put this potential to work. With greater access to inputs, Iraq’s agricultural sector can develop more quickly. The U.S. companies on this mission can meet these varied needs.

USDA’s strategy also reflects the Strategic Framework Agreement that the United States and Iraq signed in December 2008. That agreement outlines the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship and recognizes that building a prosperous and diversified economy in Iraq will be key to its stability and integration into the world economy.

I am someone who has worked for over 30 years to promote America’s agricultural exports all over the world. Nothing prepared me for what I have seen here and the spirit and resilience and spirit of the USDA and entire U.S. Government and military team working here in Iraq to give the people here a better chance to live the way anyone would want to, in security and freedom.

USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman discussed the benefits of expanded agriculture trade with Iraqi TV at the June 8 kickoff for the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission in Baghdad.
USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman discussed the benefits of expanded agriculture trade with Iraqi TV at the June 8 kickoff for the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission in Baghdad.

Ambassador Christopher R. Hill opened the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission for an audience of more than 175 U.S. and Iraqi farmers, business people and officials.  Minister of Trade Dr. Safaeddin Mohamed Safi, Senior Deputy Minister of Agriculture Dr. Subhi Al-Jumailly and USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman also offered remarks at the opening ceremony.
Ambassador Christopher R. Hill opened the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission for an audience of more than 175 U.S. and Iraqi farmers, business people and officials.  Minister of Trade Dr. Safaeddin Mohamed Safi, Senior Deputy Minister of Agriculture Dr. Subhi Al-Jumailly and USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman also offered remarks at the opening ceremony.

Madison Telephone LLC to Provide USDA-Funded Broadband Service to 200 Square Miles in Southeast Kansas Thanks to the Recovery Act

Mary Meyer, who began working for the Madison Telephone LLC in Kansas for the first generation owners, is now working with the third generation to prepare them to take over the company upon her retirement…when this USDA funded Broadband project is complete. Read more »