Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers recently announced the expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's StrikeForce Initiative into four additional states: Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.
"The StrikeForce strategy of partnering public resources with local expertise is helping to grow rural economies and create jobs in persistent poverty communities," said Vilsack. "This is a strategy that is working in rural America and I am pleased that we continue to build on these efforts to bring assistance to areas that need it the most."
Vilsack also noted that the StrikeForce strategy is having concrete results in communities across the country.
Since 2010, through StrikeForce, USDA has partnered with more than 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, including:
The Farm Service Agency saw a 14 percent increase in the total direct farm loan applications received in StrikeForce areas since the beginning of the initiative. In fiscal year (FY) 2013, the Farm Service Agency provided nearly $9.3 million to fund microloans in StrikeForce areas. Approximately 84 percent of the loans were provided to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers. Last year, the number of landowners applying for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs in StrikeForce areas increased by 82 percent over the previous year. In FY 2013, the Rural Housing Community Facilities Program obligated a total of $68 million to fund hospitals, libraries and other projects in StrikeForce areas?a 4.5 percent increase over 2012. Between 2012 and 2013, the Food and Nutrition Service doubled the redemption of SNAP benefits at farmers markets from $2 million to over $4 million in StrikeForce states?a more than 100 percent increase. In 2012, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service increased the number of children in StrikeForce states receiving free or reduced price school breakfasts by 7.4 percent.
"Through StrikeForce, we are able to reach people in new ways and bring resources to them directly," said Vilsack. "We are learning better ways to help communities leverage their assets and bring opportunity to their residents."
Today's expansion brings StrikeForce attention to more than 700 rural counties, parishes, boroughs, tribal reservations, and Colonias in 20 states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
USDA identifies census tracts with more than 20 percent poverty (according to American Community Survey data) to identify sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs and help build program participation through intensive community outreach.
StrikeForce is part of the Administration's commitment to addressing persistent poverty across America. Last week, President Obama announced the first five of 20 Promise Zones, including one in southeastern Kentucky, that target federal resources to cities, rural areas and Tribal communities suffering the worst poverty.