Lenox, K. Executive Editor-In-Chief
Part of President Obama’s Administration effort to create opportunities in Rural America.
On Thursday October 6, Tom Vilsack, 30th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with Under Secretary for Rural Development Lisa Mensah visited Berea College to announce the establishment of rural opportunities, in partnership with the Uplift America initiative.
Vilsack and Mensah’s visit included a two session forum on campus: a 9:30am – 10:45am roundtable discussion regarding strategies to opportunity in rural areas, and a 10:45 am – 11:15 a.m. press conference.
During the forum, Vilsack said, “This program will provide a game-changing level of investment capital to reduce poverty in targeted rural areas where the capacity for growth has not been realized. Charitable foundations will provide $22 million to help make local governments, businesses and nonprofits aware of the program and help them apply for loans. Infrastructure development, such as water-treatment facilities, schools, public safety and health care facilities, will be another focus of Uplift America.”
Vilsack continued, “Uplift America loans can help provide transitional housing for those who complete treatment and are getting on their feet. America’s agricultural exports have enjoyed record increases in each of the past seven years, and the government wants that trend to continue, but Uplift America loans will be targeted to help boost food production for local consumption.” “The Agriculture and Justice departments have finally reached an accord to allow federal funding of university research for hemp production and use. Canadian farmers are already profitably growing hemp for industrial use,” said Vilsack.
“President Barack Obama is very excited about this and he wants a briefing on our Kentucky trip,” Vilsack added.
Mensah said, “The ability to re-lend money can foster greater leveraging of private and philanthropic investments in rural communities.”
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Sixth District during the roundtable discussion said, “I commend Secretary Vilsack for the innovative approach of involving the private, non-profit and charitable sectors in the government effort.”
Mayor of Berea Steven Connelly said, “I didn’t realize how big this announcement was until Vilsack arrived on Thursday; this is a really big news for the community and I am looking forward to seeing improvements. I know that the FAHE organization is receiving the $50 million and they have been working for decades to finance low-income rural housing.” “Berea city has tremendously benefited from the federal grants. I thank the secretary for a $10 million low-interest rural development loan Berea obtained through USDA to reconstruct its City Hall; the city of Berea has played “an integral role in USDA’s place-based initiatives,” Connelly added.
Berea College Academic Vice President Chad Berry hosted Vilsack’s visit. “I am a proud member of the foundation’s board,” said Berry.
Kevin Smith, president and chief executive officer of Community Ventures, said, “In my 30-year career I have never seen “anything so creative out of the federal government. There are a lot of great ideas in rural communities that never get off the starting block, and through this program, we can make that happen.”
Not leaving the ”big Banks” out of the discussion were representatives from two of the nation’s largest banks Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase and their charitable foundations.
Partners for Education at Berea College was chosen to participate in the “Rural Impact,” a White House Rural Council initiative launched in April of 2015 as a cross-agency effort to combat poverty and improve upward mobility in rural and tribal places; the program received USDA funding to help businesses become more energy efficient according to whitehouse.gov.
Last year, the City of Berea was chosen as one of 10 pilot sites for a USDA program to address needs of vulnerable children and their parents, with the goal of increasing parents’ employment and education and improving health of the children and parents, and this year, the city of Berea was awarded a $10 million USDA loan to renovate and expand the city hall and public safety facilities according to USDA.gov.
Uplift America and the USDA’s Community Facilities Re-lending Program will provide $401 million in low-interest federal loans to be administered by 26 non-profit organizations serving targeted regions. The Berea-based Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises, the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp. of London, and Lexington-based Community Ventures will be part of the channel for conveying for the program’s loans–making Kentucky the only state with three participating non-profits according to Vilsack’s report.
According to The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) over 6 million Americans in rural areas live in poverty, including about 1.5 million children. A child’s place of birth or zip code should not in any way determine the type of life and the opportunity that they receive in the course of their lifetime, rather by “the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams,” according to President Obama.”
Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa received unanimous support for his confirmation by the U.S. Senate on January 21, 2009. Appointed by President Barack Obama, Vilsack is currently the eighth in the United States Presidential Line of Succession a step away from Attorney General Loretta Lynch who is seventh in line according to whitehouse.gov. Vilsack has held the same position since President Barack Obama took office.
Vilsack’s forum at Berea was the second time in one month that a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet visited Madison County; fifteen days earlier, Attorney General Loretta Lynch was in Richmond to talk about federal efforts to curtail heroin use and opioid abuse according to whitehouse report.