President Biden will open his administration’s “investing in rural America” blitz on a Minnesota farm on Wednesday with the announcement of $5 billion in funding for soil and water conservation, rural infrastructure, and economic development. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the $1.7 billion allotted for stewardship was the largest single-year injection of money ever into USDA conservation programs.
The $5 billion package includes $2 billion for economic development projects in rural areas with persistently high poverty rates in nine states and Puerto Rico as well as $1.1 billion in grants and loans for rural infrastructure improvements across the nation.
“Young people in rural communities shouldn’t have to leave home to find opportunity,” White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden told reporters ahead of the announcement at Dutch Creek Farms in Northfield, in southern Minnesota. “We are committed to supporting rural small businesses and helping farmers tap into new revenue streams, including, as Secretary Vilsack pointed out, climate-smart agriculture.”
Thirteen cabinet members and senior administration officials are scheduled to speak in 14 states over the next two weeks to call attention to Biden’s efforts to boost the rural economy. Household incomes are lower in rural America than in urban areas, and the poverty rate is higher. Rural residents tend to be older, with less formal education than urban Americans.
Rural Americans have voted in increasing margins for Republican congressional candidates over Democrats in the past couple of decades.
“Biden is traveling to rural America and bringing with him higher production costs for our farmers, rising energy prices, more expensive grocery bills, and global unrest,” said Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee on social media.
Vilsack said during a White House teleconference on Tuesday that $1.1 billion of the new conservation funding would go to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which supports public-private projects to carry out soil and water conservation at landscape scale. The funding will aid in the adoption of climate-smart practices. “This is not only going to help agriculture work toward the president’s vision of a net-zero [greenhouse gas emissions] future for American agriculture, it’s going to help to create new income opportunities for thousands of small and midsize farming operations as they sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will ultimately qualify them for a series of ecosystem service market credits,” he said.
Also in the conservation funding was $250 million apiece for the cost-sharing Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, and $100 million for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
The $1.1 billion in infrastructure funding would be divided among 104 projects “that will bring new jobs, clean water and fuel, and reliable electricity to people in every state,” said the White House.
In addition, the administration announced $274 million in grants and loans to expand access to high-speed internet in eight states and $145 million in grants and loans through the Rural Energy for America Program, which helps farmers and small businesses pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy work.